Robert Thomas of Muskogee (OK) High School has watched his stock increase from the summer when he…
Lift, run, repeat. Lift, run, repeat.
As monotonous as this might have been, Thomas credits those long days over the past few summers for helping him become more than just that big kid in class. All of a sudden, he was a major matchup problem on the football field.
The 6-foot-2, 311-pound defensive tackle from Muskogee (Okla.) High went from bench-pressing 310 pounds as a freshman to 510 pounds as a two-star recruit committed to Arkansas.
He's explosive for a player his size, and it doesn't hurt that he can also squat 670 pounds — the size of a large black bear.
"Offensive players, they think because I'm a bigger guy that I'm gonna be slow," Thomas said. "And I come off the ball on them and bring like that extra push, like with the bull rush, and it just kills people."
Thomas bears a passing resemblance to former Arkansas defensive tackle Keith Jackson Jr., who was around the same size as Thomas coming out of high school.
And considering how the Razorbacks were often pushed around at the line of scrimmage last season, coach Bobby Petrino could use another large body to help stop the run and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
"This needs to be a big lineman (recruiting) year for us. Last year was kind of a big skill (player) year," Petrino said during his season-ending news conference earlier this month.
"When I say that, (I mean) we need to get some (defensive) linemen — some inside guys, some big, physical inside guys."
Thomas wouldn't mind being one of those guys. The defensive tackle, who's rated by Scout.com as the 89th best player at his position, tries to model his game after former LSU All-American Glenn Dorsey.
He wants to be a handful upfront.
At first, though, Thomas had no intentions of signing with Arkansas or even playing in the Southeastern Conference. He was originally committed to Kansas State, but he had a change of heart after speaking with Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee.
McGee — a Tulsa native who recruits Oklahoma for the Razorbacks — called Thomas relentlessly, telling the Okie from Muskogee that he had a chance to start as a freshman.
Defensive tackle Zach Stadther was thrust into Arkansas' starting lineup as a freshman because of injuries and a lack of depth. And with Ernest Mitchell gone and senior Malcolm Sheppard possibly moving to defensive end, Thomas could be needed immediately in the middle.
"They told me I have a chance to start as a freshman, get a bunch of playing time as a freshman," Thomas said, referring to Arkansas' coaches.
Thomas switched his commitment from Kansas State to Arkansas in late October, even though he won't take his official visit to campus until Jan. 9.
The defensive tackle decided that he'd rather play at a school only a short drive from his home in Oklahoma. He has a large family that he's close to, and he wanted to be near his grandfather — who's also named Robert Thomas.
He wanted his family to come watch his games. So how did his relatives react to his decision to sign with Arkansas and not Kansas State? They were "super excited," as he puts it.
"Everybody's like real pumped up. Everybody's giving me Arkansas shirts. We have Arkansas flags everywhere and everything," Thomas said. "So it's a big thing for us."
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