Southern California coach Lane Kiffin is still puzzled by running back De'Anthony Thomas' last-minute decision to play for Oregon rather than the Trojans.
At the time, there was speculation that Thomas was concerned about NCAA sanctions against USC, which are keeping the team out of the postseason this year. Others said that maybe the Trojans thought he was a lock, so they didn't go out of their way to court him.
Thomas, a true freshman this season at Oregon, has said that he decided on the Ducks simply because he really liked Eugene.
"For that to happen was very strange, because at that point you've been around him so much and you've seen so much of his film you start to picture how he's going to piece in with all these other guys," Kiffin said this week. "Then all of the sudden it goes the other way. But it is what it is. He's a great player and he'll have a great career."
Kiffin will see Thomas playing for the opponent this Saturday when the No. 18 Trojans (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) visit the No. 4 Ducks (9-1, 7-0).
The young playmaker's reversal on signing day last spring has worked out well for Oregon.
Thomas has 13 touchdowns this season, including seven via the pass, five on the ground and one kickoff return. He has 1,497 all-purpose yards to average 149.7 per game, ranking him 16th in the country among all FBS players.
He is the only player in the nation with 300 or more yards each rushing, receiving and on kick returns.
In fact, Thomas gives the impression that there's nothing he can't do.
"He's a real tough, physical kid. A lot of people were recruiting him as a defensive back because of that physicality. He's a fearless competitor," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. "If you notice he's one of our gunners on our punt team. One of the reasons we're No. 1 in the country in net punting is because of how quickly he can get down the field and cover punts."
Thomas first grabbed attention when he played for Snoop Dogg's youth football league in Los Angeles. The rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, nicknamed the young Thomas the "Black Mamba" because of his ability to change direction and slip through defenses.
Thomas would graduate from Snoop's league to play for Crenshaw High School. His senior season he rushed for 1,299 yards and 18 touchdowns, while also picking off five passes on defense to lead the Cougars to their second straight city championship. He said in an interview that his role model was Charles Woodson, the Heisman Trophy winner who played on both sides of the ball in college.
Thomas also ran track, and at the state championships his junior year he ran the 200 meters in a wind-aided 20.61 seconds, the best time in the nation for a prep athlete at the time.
His career at Oregon got off to a rough start when he fumbled twice in the Ducks' season-opening loss to LSU. But he rebounded the next week with two touchdown catches in a 69-20 victory over Nevada.
He also fumbled last week against Stanford, but on Oregon's next series caught a pass from Darron Thomas and raced down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown. The Ducks went on to win 53-30.
Kiffin compared the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Thomas to a smaller version of Reggie Bush.
"The way that he can start and stop. How fast he can cut," Kiffin said. "He's really special."
Oregon running back LaMichael James, who leads the nation with nearly 151 yards rushing per game, has nothing but praise for his young protégé. Thomas fits perfectly into Oregon's speedy spread offense, which is averaging 498 yards a game.
"He looks like a blur," James said, "All the time."