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Staying Connected to His Roots is Important to De’Anthony Thomas

Posted Oct 17, 2015

Thomas attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles

The legend of the “Black Mamba” had preceded his time at Crenshaw High School.

He hadn’t been a teenager for more than a year, but De’Anthony Thomas had already developed a reputation around the streets of Los Angeles for his athletic ability.

So when it came time to attend Crenshaw, the fame created from being a local youth legend in an area with a certain milieu didn’t necessarily match the character of this kid with the million dollar moves.   

“He wasn’t what you would expect from someone with that kind of notoriety in the community,” Crenshaw head football coach Robert Garrett said of his first encounter with Thomas. “You would expect a kid that was real cocky or something of that nature.

“He was just the opposite—real reserved and helpful, even as a young kid. I remember that about him.”

When Thomas, now a second-year receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs, reflects on his early football days, he remembers the expectations surrounding the tales of the “Black Mamba.”

“They expected a lot from me,” Thomas explained of those who grew up supporting him, “and not just to be a good football player, but to be a great leader for that community.”

They were unfair expectations to put on a 13 or 14-year-old kid, but that’s part of the deal when you have that kind of ability in an area that would produce a lot of great athletes, but many who never reached their potential.

It was because of that ability that Thomas would often find himself in a position that people would simply be telling him things he wanted to hear, not necessarily always what he needed to hear.

“I think most people he came around were always looking for that moment and would allow him to do whatever he wanted to do, and not lead him in the right way,” Garrett explained.

But Garrett was one of the first people in Thomas’ life who would tell him the things he didn’t want to hear, and the way in which Thomas responded is one of the reasons he set himself on a path that’s now led to the NFL.

“Coach Garrett is like a father figure to me,” Thomas said. “He let me how to be a man and how to be accountable.”

Garrett, who has coached multiple NFL players since taking the head coaching position at Crenshaw back in 1988, has never shied away from the challenge of reaching and inspiring kids in a difficult neighborhood and under difficult circumstances.

Crenshaw has produced many notable alumni, from the likes of Daryl Strawberry and Ice-T to Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Kevin Ollie and Brandon Mebane.

And as Garrett explains, the best way to reach these kids to be real with them.

“Kids can see through phonies,” he explained. “As educators and coaches, we all talk the same language. I think kids judge people by their demonstrated behaviors, and what we try to do is not present something that is false.

“The truth of the matter is De’Anthony had ability and most people in this neighborhood aspired that he’d probably end up where he is today.”

Thomas was ranked as the No. 1 athlete in the country back in 2011 by Rivals.com and ESPN.

As a senior, Thomas carried the ball 114 times for 1,299 yards with 18 touchdowns, also adding 16 receptions for 359 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The Black Mamba was a local legend, and the plays he made back then are still talked about at Crenshaw today.

“The kids that come here, they still talk about him,” Garrett noted. “They remember him the most because he was probably one of the most sought-after or most electrifying players in their mind that went to Crenshaw.

“By his name alone, that keeps that fire burnt here.”

Staying connected to his roots is important to Thomas, which is why he’ll still go back and speak to the students at Crenshaw, paying forward the respect and responsibility he learned from Garrett and those back in his hometown.

“It’s very important just to give those kids the message,” Thomas noted. “The message for the Crenshaw community is just to be a leader for yourself. I feel like that’s big because a lot of those kids, their parents aren’t there and a lot of them are being raised by their grandparents. That’s what I experienced early and I knew what I wanted to do—football was one of the things that I had.

“It gave me something to do after school and was a great outlet to just keep me busy and to keep me off the streets. I just want to help inspire and motivate them to just look at things differently.”

Thomas was raised in a single-parent household with four younger brothers and even spent time living with his grandfather, which is another one of the reasons many of those kids back at Crenshaw can connect with his story.

Garrett said it’s good for Thomas to come back and reach out to the kids who still talk about him.

“He’ll talk about how important it is for them to catch up on their academics and don’t be prey to whatever the other inequities are in their neighborhood,” Garrett said. “He assures them because he’s made it, and he lets them know that he didn’t make it easy—that he had a hard time in life.

“I think they can identify with him because they know him. Like I said, the kids often mention him. I think it’s a true identity, one you can see, one you can feel and one you can relate to.”

Even though Garrett said he makes a point to not treat any of his guys differently, he couldn’t be more proud of what Thomas has accomplished.

“I’m just as happy for him as anybody alive,” Garrett said. “It’s an honor for our community, it’s an honor for our program, it’s an honor for his family and I’m ecstatic about it.”

For Thomas, the Crenshaw community, which includes his four younger brothers, has always given him a sense of purpose.

From the early days of the Crenshaw Bears youth football team, with whom he was first given the nickname “Black Mamba,” until now, Thomas always been motivated to be a role model to his four younger brothers.

“I’ve just been trying to be that motivator and role model for them,” Thomas said. “They really look up to me and I just have to keep them going and staying focused and make sure they’re doing the right things.”

But then, as a freshman at Oregon, Thomas became a father to a baby girl, who gave him another source of purpose and direction.

“It’s changed me a lot,” Thomas said of becoming a father. “It’s made me more disciplined and molded me as a man. It’s made me figure out my ‘Why?’

“She has been my motivation since she was born.”

The first game his daughter attended was the Rose Bowl in 2011, where Thomas touched the ball 6 times for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Oregon Ducks 45-38 win over Wisconsin.

“It was a blessing,” Thomas explained of her being at that game. “It was the first time I had ever seen my daughter. I had a job and was away at college being a student-athlete at the time. I was dedicating my time to that so I could be in this position today.

“Now I have the opportunity to take care of her and be by her every day.”

RELATED: Former Chiefs Playmaker Dante Hall is Big Fan of De'Anthony Thomas

Coach Garrett and the Crenshaw community, his younger brothers and now his daughter, have all helped shape Thomas into the man he is today.

He’s a man whose roots ultimately define him—something he’s proud of and something he’ll never forget, which is why he’ll continue to pay it forward.

It’s just who he is.

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