Canadian defensive back Isaiah Thomas verbally commits to University of Miami
Isaiah Thomas's immediate future is secure and with months to spare.
The six-foot-two, 205-pound Canadian safety at Clearwater Academy International has verbally committed to the University of Miami. Thomas had originally set a deadline of late August/early September to decide which school he'd attend in 2023 after receiving 27 scholarship offers.
Auburn, Boston College, Florida, Florida State, Indiana, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin and Miami — all Power Five schools — were among those tabling offers to the 17-year-old from Markham, Ont.
"I'm definitely happy just getting this part done," Thomas said during a telephone interview. "I was starting to stress about what schools I wanted to take an official visit to and stuff like that.
"It definitely lifts a weight off my shoulders."
Thomas made his decision following a visit to Miami. There, he spent time with head coach Mario Cristobal, defensive co-odinator Lance Guidry, secondary coach Jahmile Addae and Hurricanes player Akheem Mesidor, a defensive lineman from Ottawa.
In the end, it was Addae who figured prominently in Thomas's decision. And their connection ran deeper than just football as both have Ghanaian fathers and moved to North America with their respective families.
Not only did Thomas's father, Shaheim, talk with Addae, he also spoke with the Miami coach's father via telephone.
"Coach Addae has made me feel at home and treated me like his own son," Isaiah Thomas said. "I got to sit in the film room with him, watch him coach during the practices and he's an amazing coach but an even greater person and I really do see myself playing for him.
"When I called my dad and told him I wanted to commit there, he had the chance to speak to coach Addae, who was also with his dad and so the two (fathers) were able to speak to one another."
The elder Thomas admitted to being somewhat surprised with the timing of his son's decision but said there was a definite connection between the two families.
"That's accurate," he said. "I questioned (Isaiah) but he just felt at home there, he just felt like that was where he needed to be."
Addae's cousin, Alonzo, of Pickering, Ont., is a defensive back with the CFL's Ottawa Redblacks.
Thomas moved to Florida last year following two seasons at Clarkson Football North in Mississauga, Ont. He was enjoying a solid 2022 campaign before suffering a season-ending knee injury after five games.
Still, he finished with 27 tackles and an interception (which he returned 72 yards for a TD). He remains on track to return to Clearwater — a private school in Florida serving pre-Kindergarten through to Grade 12 — this fall and help the school chase a third consecutive state championship.
"I'm still ahead of schedule," Thomas said. "I should get cleared to do some on-field stuff with my teammates next month and so far everything is good.
"They (doctors) are saying my leg is almost back to full strength and I'm really happy about that."
Thomas plans to enrol at Miami in January.
Miami posted a 5-7 record last season (3-5 within Atlantic Coast Conference), Cristobal's first. The Hurricanes program has won five NCAA titles but its last came in 2001.
That squad featured three Canadians — centre Brett Romberg, of Windsor, Ont., and fellow offensive linemen Sherko Haji-Rasouli of Toronto and Joe McGrath of Moose Jaw, Sask. All three would play professionally — Romberg in the NFL, Haji-Rasouli and McGrath in the CFL — with Romberg being inducted into the Hurricanes' Hall of Fame in 2013.
Fortunately for Thomas, Guidry's defensive schemes are similar to those of Clearwater defensive co-ordinator Rich Stubler, the longtime CFL coach who won five Grey Cups over three decades in Canada.
"Miami wants me to move around a lot, be everywhere on the field — strong safety, nickel, free safety — basically everything I am here," Thomas said. "Once I heard that, I said, 'I love it.'
"It gives me a chance to show off my versatility."
And while he's excited about the prospect of playing at Miami, Thomas remains steadfast it's just the latest step toward his ultimate goal of one day playing in the NFL.
"Before, my mindset was I had to work hard to impress coaches and prepare for university," he said. "My focus right now is continuing my rehab and on the season ahead, but (in January) it will be the next four years and what I need to do in order to prepare for the NFL."
Thomas speaks with a maturity, vision and poise well beyond his years. Shaheim Thomas, a former basketball player and track athlete who's also a certified trainer, tutored his son before the move to Florida and said from an early age the junior Thomas never shied from rolling up his sleeves.
"He's never been afraid to work and I also have to give him credit for being a good student and being able to stick with it," Shaheim Thomas said. "They say confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence.
"The more little things he did and realized he was able to move ahead of the curve, that just motivated him to want to do more. I think I was able to provide the fundamentals he needed and he's just taken advantage of that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press