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January 8, 2011MORE ARMY BOWL: Latest on announcements | Complete coverage SAN ANTONIO - He's called De'Anthony Thomas, he's called The Black Mamba and Saturday at the Alamodome, he was called Rivals.com's West Team MVP.
The versatile five-star Crenshaw, Calif., prospect will come in as a running back for USC, but shined at cornerback during the week of practices.
Then he did what he did all week in the game - dominated. Whether it was big hits in space or a fourth quarter interception, the 5-9, 160-pound athlete seemingly locked down his side of the field, run and pass.
Though his West team fell to the East, 13-10, Thomas shined.
"Well, you know, I didn't even know I was going to be able to come play corner here," Thomas said following Saturday's game. "I thought I was coming in as a running back. But, I knew I had to step in for the defense."
Not only did Thomas lead the West squad in tackles with eight, he made the play that looked to put the West in a position to make a late comeback. The speedster picked off a Teddy Bridgewater pass at the West 19-yard line. Though the offense couldn't put any more points on the board, the play was an example of why the East quarterbacks rarely could get anything going on his side.
"I was just sitting there," Thomas said. "I had to stay on my man and luckily the ball came into my hands."
The noise for Thomas started in practice. The West defensive backs were itching for contact early in the week - West defensive backs coach David Peck called the team a "little too aggressive" in hitting during non-contact drills.
Peck was still quick to praise his forceful mentality.
"That's a nice way to come up and make a tackle, 16," Peck told the No. 16 Thomas during practice. "Even if that receiver catches the ball, we have to make solid tackles. Good job."
The coaches expressed a need for him on defense when he showed up at the Army All-American Bowl. Even though he starred at Crenshaw as a running back and a safety, he welcomed the challenge - and excelled.
"Coach came up to me and said we need you on defense and I said, 'I'll do it - I can do it all,'" Thomas explained.
According to Rivals.com analyst Barry Every, Thomas excelled playing out of position.
"He's a 10 in change of direction, 10 in speed and a 10 in ball skills," he said. "The only thing he lacks is ideal size. He's so quick. For being as tall as he is, he's not afraid to tackle."
Still, he'll take those talents and look to make plays out of the backfield for the Trojans. That's the plan as Thomas knows it. But would he play some corner after his success this week if the staff in Los Angeles wanted to make the move?
"Yes, definitely," he said with a smile on the field of the Alamodome.
While the game may have spawned an endless debate about where Thomas projects the best at in college, he made a statement to the nation in San Antonio.
"I'm not just a California kid that dominates in California," he said. "I try to just dominate everywhere I go on any field.
"I met a lot of great players from all over - from the East and the West team. This game is just [about] friendship. A lot of us are going to the next level next year, and we're going to be competing against each other. I just wish I could play with them again."