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TROJAN BOUND: Crenshaw Junior and USC commit DeAnthony Thomas has the rare combo of great speed and down-to-earth humility. Heading into today's City Section track-and-final meet, he's expected to defend his title in the 100 meters as well as be the favorite in the 200 meters. (Photo by Rob Helfman)
City favorite in 100m/200m gives verbal commitment as he eyes fast times at Birmingham High, site of City Section final.
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports Editor
The legend of DeAnthony Thomas began at the Snoop Dogg Youth Football League, where his speed earned him the nickname Black Mamba from the legendary rapper.
It's carried him to Crenshaw High School where as a sophomore he was an All-City running back in his first season on varsity. Last fall, the junior used his speed to be a hard-hitting All-City defensive back while helping the Cougars to a City Section championship and the CIF Open Division state bowl game.
Now his story will continue at USC. Thomas announced last week that he's given a verbal commitment to the Trojans, adding a local flair to an already impressive 2011 class of recruits.
"Me and my mom went over it and she said that she and the family could come to the games easier. That's why I'm a Trojan now," Thomas said.
It didn't take long for him to show his support as he wore a USC sweatshirt at last week's City Section track and field preliminaries. Ranked the nation's top running back by Sporting News, he'll join teammate Hayes Pullard, who signed with USC in February, and his godbrother and fellow 2011 commit Victor Blackwell of Santa Ana Mater Dei.
"There's family there now," Thomas added.
Talent aside, what's made him an endearing figure to many is his humility. Despite the attention, he's handled it without letting it go to his head.
Credit that to his grandfather Rayfield Dupree, who competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics in the triple jump after starring at Locke High School. It was Dupree who got him into track through his club Team World Track and whipped him into shape at an early age.
Despite being incarcerated, Dupree still follows his grandson's accomplishments as his family and friends fill him in every week during football and track season.
It's that commitment to practicing hard that earned him the respect of Crenshaw head coach David Frierson. Sprinters are notorious for their disdain of practice, he said, but not Thomas or his teammates.
"He only knows one speed and that's all-out, whether it's in practice or a meet," Frierson said.
Thomas is the headliner leading into today's City Section finals, where he enters as the defending champion in the 100 meters and runner up in the 200. At the prelims, he ran the fastest time in the 100 (10.74 seconds) and second in the 200 (21.33) behind teammate Jonathan Downard.
Downard and Dorsey senior Robert Herron will be Thomas' main competition in both events, a different meet than last year when he was paced by Santee's Tevin Carter (last year's 200m winner and 100m runner up) and Taft's DJ Morgan (two-time City champion in the 110/300m hurdles).
As a freshman two years ago, Thomas finished third in the 100 and second in the 200 by a combined .07 seconds. Since then, he's proven himself to be one of the elite sprinters the City has seen in years.
While the 100 is where he's shined, his best race might be the 200 where he finished second at last year's state meet and won at the Arcadia Invitational in April.
"I've only seen a few people do what he can do. He comes around the corner and just goes," David Frierson said.
After winning three City titles last year - Thomas factored in Crenshaw winning both relays - he's going for four once again this year. It hasn't been done since Jeshua Anderson, the current three-time Pac-10 champion in the 400 hurdles, won the 100, high jump and the 110/300 hurdles in 2007 for Taft.
Track fans better enjoy him this year and the next because given USC's policy with athletes not running track, it could be the last time they see him.
With his skills, he could share the backfield with Morgan or Baxter or roam the secondary as a defensive back. It's just one thing for him to look forward to next year.
But now, he's got dreams of winning at City and hopefully setting a few records in the process.
Like Stafon Johnson before him, Thomas carries the weight of a community on his shoulders. It's no easy task for his 5-9, 160 lbs. frame but it's just another challenge that he'll face head on.
He already gave Trojan fans a preview when he rushed for 193 yards and three touchdowns at the City Championship in December at the Coliseum. Now it's something they and his family can expect to see more often.
"I got a great feel for the field and hopefully I'll do some more stuff on it," Thomas said.