“My father is a barber,” he said. “When I came out here, I paid for my first haircut. Ever.”
Thomas, whose hometown is Monroe, La., about an hour east of Shreveport off the I-20 Interstate, laughs easily, reminding some of former Cardinal safety Michael Thomas, now a member of the San Francisco 49ers. Tuijan has found a new barber, but free haircuts aren’t the only thing he misses.
“Definitely my dad’s cooking,” said Thomas. “He cooked just about every night. It wasn’t healthy, but it was good.”
A multi-sport standout from Ouachita Parish High School, the speedy Thomas shined at wide receiver and cornerback, catching 105 passes for 1,710 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 426 yards and three scores during his career. He also lettered in baseball and track and field. A left fielder and leadoff hitter, Thomas batted .531 and stole 24 bases last year, earning all-state honorable mention honors, and qualified for the state meet in the 200 meters.
He switched to defense last year.
“I still have the wide receiver in me, but I think I’ll be a pretty good defensive player,” said the 5-foot-10, 171-pound Thomas, who is projected to play cornerback for Stanford.
There is an old adage that wide receivers become defensive backs because they have bad hands. Not so, according to Thomas.
“I’ve heard it,” he said. “It’s not the case. I can catch.”
Thomas chose Stanford over Northwestern, and was offered a scholarship despite missing Stanford Football Camp, a proving ground for many hopefuls. Not that he planned it that way.
“I was coming to camp, but my flight got delayed, so I got here late and missed it,” said Thomas. “I still made it for junior day.”
Thomas impressed the coaching staff, then went through the rigorous admissions process.
“It’s the same as a regular student goes through,” he said. “A lot of essays. One was writing to a future roommate, and one was about a summer activity. I also wrote about what I planned to major in, which will be something in science and engineering.”
A straight-A student in high school, Thomas received no special favors and didn’t expect any.
“You won’t play football forever, so having a degree from here, I’ll be set for life,” said Thomas. “If I go to the NFL, that’s great. But even if I don’t, I’ll have a great education to fall back on.”
Stanford’s football success the past three seasons played a factor in his decision, but the academics were too good to pass up.
“That was a great plus,” he said. “But even if they weren’t the greatest team, I think I still would have come because the coaching staff is great and they’re going to come up regardless. The education is once in a lifetime. Most people where I come from don’t have that opportunity. I want to take advantage of it.”
Thomas said his biggest transition from high school to college so far was adjusting to the rigorous summer workouts.
“Conditioning, weight training, stretching, keeping your body hydrated,” said Thomas. “It’s a different level. I had to get up to speed with that pretty fast.”
It didn’t take long for him to bond with his new teammates, especially the 10 other freshmen in his class.
“The guys are great and make you feel at home,” he said. “We all stick together and help each other out. I think it’s an advantage having a smaller class because we’re closer than we would be if it was bigger.”
Thomas might give baseball a shot, but football has his full attention.
“For right now, football is going to be my main thing,” said Thomas. “I’m trying to grasp all of the football things I need to know first. Maybe if I catch on, I might go out for the baseball team.”
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Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 37 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the sport's beat writer for the Examiner, national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, contributing editor to Golf Digest, and since 1997 has been the editor of tigerwoods.com.