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March 6, 2006

The right choice

CHICAGO - For most Division I prospects, the biggest decision they will have to make will be what school they're going to attend. But for cornerback Marcus Thomas of Chicago Morgan Park, that decision will be easy. That's because he's already made the most difficult decision in his life, a choice that took him away from his family and transplanted him in a foreign city.

Two years ago, Thomas, one of the top players in Illinois for the class of 2007, left Miami and Carol City High School and moved to Chicago. The move left behind almost his entire family, lifelong friends and memories that still come gushing back to this day.

But it was a move Thomas had to make.

"My mom was already here in Chicago, and I was living with my father," said Thomas, who measured in at 5-foot-11 and 157 pounds at Saturday's Rivals.com Junior Day. "I was ready for a change. Things weren't going too good in the household, and I was just looking for a change.

"It was the biggest decision I've had to make in my life so far, but it turned out to be the best. It was a spur of the moment decision, too. I had to make it then or not make it at all. I did it, and I've not looked back."

The transition wasn't easy. Most of Thomas' family assumed the move was going to be brief and he'd come running back to Miami after he experienced one Chicago winter.

They were wrong.

"They were just thinking it was kind of temporary," Thomas said. "They said, 'he's just going for the summer, and he'll be back.' But then I just fell in love with Chicago. It's way different.

"I don't know how to explain it. I like the cold weather. I don't know why I do. I also love my coaches. I have teammates that care about you. I have guys like Chris James, Double D (Demetrius Jones) and Ray Ray (Ramone Johnson). Everybody welcomed me with open arms, even though I'm from Miami."

Thomas, who was given the nickname Miami by his teammates, quickly found a home at Morgan Park through support with his coaches, teammates and friends. Soon the talented defensive back was making plays on the football field and after a few games with his teammates, he was sold on the Windy City.

"I miss Carol City, I won't lie," he said. "I miss playing in front of my family, you know. I don't have any family or things like that here. I have to tape the games and send them down there. It's not the same family wise. My family down there is way more into it down in Miami as opposed to here.

"But looking back, it was easily the best decision I could have made. My mom stays on me all the time about my books. I am in a great situation at school and I've got a bunch of coaches and teammates that truly care for me. I miss my family down there in Miami a lot, but I've got a lot of new members of my family here in Chicago.

"It's my home now."

One of the biggest reasons the transition was made smoothly was because Thomas is one heck of a football player. The talented cornerback is great in man-to-man coverage situations, and he has great leaping ability that allows him to go get the football at the highest point.

He models his games after the great cornerbacks that have come from Florida, Florida State and Miami in the past, and just like many of those guys he's not afraid to let his opponent know what he thinks about them.

"It's a Miami, down South, thing," Thomas said. "We talk on the field and it gets you more pumped up for the game. I'm very passionate for the game, and I have to do everything 110 percent. And when I celebrate, that's me rewarding myself for doing all the hard work that I had done."

His celebrations are already legendary with his teammates.

While watching film at Morgan Park on Friday, his teammates were quick to rewind the tape of the city championship game against Simeon when Thomas broke up a big pass late in the game. After the play was over, Thomas started to celebrate in true Deon Sanders style by doing five quick pushups.

"The best celebration so far was the pushups," he said. "When I catch an interception, I always walk away with my hand up in the air. I don't want to go over the top with it, but it's something I can get away with right now. Some people might not get it, but when you're from Miami, you understand it."

Thomas hopes to make the most out of the recruiting process. He maintains he's very wide open at this point with teams like Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Iowa State and Tennessee sending him quite a bit of mail early on. He does have an early offer from Illinois, but that's just one of many he hopes to earn.

"I didn't think I would be getting all this type of attention this early," Thomas said. "I knew that it would come, but not this early. It was the beginning of February when Ron Zook and Reggie Mitchell told me I have an offer.

"I was like so happy. I now have Chris James in my ear all the time. He's telling me, 'at Illinois we have this, we have that.' And then Ray Ray is telling me, 'Tennessee man, it's cool. You need to go down there because it's something different.' "

Thomas admits he wouldn't mind hearing from some more teams in the South, but also says he likes the attention he's getting now from the Big 10 schools.

"I definitely wouldn't mind going back down South to play in college, because hat's where my heart is," Thomas said. "Growing up that's all I watched - Miami, Florida and Florida State. But it might not be so bad to stay up here in the Big 10 either. It wouldn't be bad to go to a place like Ohio State, because they beat Miami last time they played."

In the end, Thomas knows it will be a difficult choice, but he's also glad he's experienced in that department.

"Most kids my age don't have to deal with the stuff that I've had to," Thomas said. "I made the best decision when I came to Chicago and left Miami. That turned out great, so I know when I make that next big decision on signing day that it'll all turn out all right, too."


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