Freshman walk-on Nate Thomas has turned into marquee player for South Dakota


VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — The University of South Dakota’s rushing offense has averaged more than 176 yards per game this year, and the emergence of freshman Nate Thomas has been a big reason behind that success. But Thomas’ journey to Vermillion is anything but ordinary.

The state of Illinois pushed its high school football season to the spring last year due to the pandemic, throwing a wrench into Nate Thomas’ college recruitment.

“We only played four games, so with only having four games of footage, still trying to get to schools, it was really tough,” USD Freshman Running Back Nate Thomas said.

Thomas had one offer before his senior season, but the others he hoped to receive never came.

“Last minute USD hit me up, hey we don’t really got money right now but we want you to walk on and kind of earn your spot and show us what you can do for the team. That was enough for me right there to be honest,” Thomas said.

Nate and his Uncle weren’t able to see the University nor Vermillion in person.

“We had to do all the research ourselves. Look around campus on a little virtual tour, all that. It was definitely tough, but once we did our research, got a feel for it we felt like this was the right place for me,” Thomas said.

As a walk-on freshman Thomas understood seeing the field wasn’t guaranteed.

“All I can control is hard how I worked. I knew how hard I worked was going to show in games, show to coaches, ok this guy can really do something special,” Thomas said.

But opportunity presented itself in the Coyotes 3rd game of the season at Cal Poly.

“We knew how talented he was it was about him picking up the offense and knowing exactly what he needed to do 100 percent of the time. So once he got to that level that’s when he started to see some time on the field,” Running Backs Coach Dante Warren said.

And he quickly showed opponents the kind of back he is.

“Once I get down hill it’s pretty hard to stop me, so definitely a bruising back,” Thomas said.

Thomas has played in every game since and the bruising back now lead the Coyotes in rushing.

“Very intentional when he runs. He’s not afraid to run over people. At the same time he does a good job of sliding off tackles and not getting taken on square and that’s one of the reasons he’s been effective,” Head Coach Nielson said.

Thomas has shown the others the value of hard work.

“These young cats are going to flock to him to see what he did, how he did it and I’m sure him putting in the work before he got here is something recruits will see as well,” Warren said.

And betting on yourself.

“Everybody got their own path. Everybody got their own journey. Just because you don’t get an offer don’t mean this can’t happen or that can’t happen. I just always had to believe in myself,” Thomas said.

Thomas and the Coyotes will play Southern Illinois in their playoff opener on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5:00.

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