In Ridley Scott’s 1982 neo-noir science fiction flick Bladerunner, Dr. Tyrell sums up this new series succinctly enough when he says to Harrison Ford’s character Roy, “[t]he light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy.” Let’s meet the lights that burned twice as bright, but maybe half as long, one hit wonders. Our fourth installment looks at a third-string Mean Green tailback who put together the ultimate first-string season - Jamario Thomas.
By the time Jamario Thomas got his crack at college football, the 2004 season was three games old as the Mean Green traveled to the Flatiron Mountains of Boulder to take on Colorado. Before that fateful day at Folsom Field, Thomas carried the ball twice for negative one yard in a 65 point loss to Texas. He was third-string entering the season and would’ve been fourth-string if not for a season-ending injury to Patrick Cobb.
The freshman from Spring Hill hit the Folsom turf running, with 115 yards in the first quarter. Buffalo head coach Gary Barnett admitted that he hadn’t even seen Thomas on the roster. Colorado linebacker Akarika Dawn misdiagnosed the issue when he said after the fact, “it wasn’t that they were good, it’s that we were bad.” No, Mr. Dawn, Jamario Thomas was freaking good.
Thomas ended his day with 247 yards, just two yards off a school record, and scored on touchdowns of 55 and 27 yards. By the way, Fox analyst Joel Klatt completed 13 straight passes at one point for the Buff and torched the Mean Green defense for 371 yards in the 52-21 win.
After a loss to Baylor a week later, the Mean Green found themselves 0-4 entering Sun Belt play against Middle Tennessee. Thomas played the role of workhorse with 36 carries and 179 yards and two scores. The big news for Mean Green fans was that their beloved North Texas won a game. The noise heard ‘round Denton was the Mean Green’s engine revving, North Texas was about to reel off seven straight wins and run away with the Sun Belt crown.
The legend of Super Jamario grew the next week against Utah State. Thomas went ahead and set the school and conference record with 256 yards against the Aggies. The Sun Belt travel budget, by the way, was roughly the gross national product of Croatia. The league office started to rewrite the record book pencil because a week later Thomas broke his school and conference record with 258 yards against New Mexico State. That number didn’t include a 27-yard touchdown that officials called back due to holding or he would’ve reached 1,000 yards in just six games.
A week later, Thomas joined Adrian Peterson (2004), Marshall Faulk (1991), and Emmitt Smith (1987) as the only freshman to hit 1,000 yards in the first seven games of their freshman seasons. That’s not bad company if you’re into Hall of Fame running backs and whatnot. Thomas topped them all and set an NCAA record with his fourth 200-yard game in a win over Louisiana Monroe.
He hit his fifth and fourth straight 200-yard day against Louisiana Lafayette. His achievement broke the record for 200-yard games in a season by a freshman set by two Heisman Trophy winners - Georgia legend Hershel Walker and Wisconsin powerhouse Ron Dayne. Thomas added fifth straight and sixth overall to his record with 291 yards in a conference clinching win over Idaho, erasing the school and conference single-game mark for the third time in 2004.
A hamstring injury kept Thomas out of the regular-season finale against Arkansas State. He ran for 92 yards in the New Orleans Bowl, falling just 62 yards shy of Dayne’s freshman yardage mark. Dayne set the target in 13 games; Super Jamario played in only in ten. The injury and missed time also cost him a chance at a national rushing title. Thomas still finished fifth in the NCAA, behind Cal’s J.J. Arrington, Memphis back DeAngelo Williams, OU’s Adrian Peterson, and Longhorn Cedric Benson. Each of those four played at least three more games than Thomas in the 2004 season.
When the dust settled, the freshman back ran for 1,801 yards, at 6.3 yards per carry, seventeen touchdowns (best in the Conference and seventh overall), and an NCAA best 180 yards per game. The Sun Belt named Thomas the Player of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, and Freshman of the Year for his efforts. Super Jamario took all the conference hardware.
In 2005, with Patrick Cobb back, the Mean Green had a potent one-two punch on paper. Injuries, however, ruined North Texas’ plans. A hamstring injury limited Thomas to eight games and just 89 carries and affected his play into his junior season. While Thomas led the Mean Green in rushing in 2006 but he managed only 668 yards. His senior season, Todd Dodge was in charge, and North Texas won just two games. Still, Thomas’ 666 yards were a team-best in only 116 carries. He averaged nearly 6 yards a rush and led the squad with eight rushing touchdowns.
NFL scouts moved on from Thomas, though he eventually had a cup of coffee in the arena league.
Super Jamario never reached the heights of his 2004 season; circumstances played him a rough hand. Still, no one can take away what Thomas did as a freshman, etching his names among the elites of the game.