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Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas hopes for more highlights at Coliseum

Thomas, a two-way star at Crenshaw High who at one time was committed to USC, comes to the Coliseum for the first time as a college player. Oregon is unbeaten and is fourth in the BCS standings.

November 02, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • De'Anthony Thomas, right, committed to USC before signing with Oregon.
De'Anthony Thomas, right, committed to USC before signing with Oregon. (Don Ryan / Associated Press )

De'Anthony Thomas took a pitch and sped to his right. He twice faked a pass as he neared the sideline, shuffled his feet when he got there, and then jetted back across the width of the field to the end zone.

Thomas' short but spectacular improvisation two years ago at the Coliseum helped Crenshaw High to a victory over Carson in the City Section championship game.

Afterward, the two-way star — who for a time had committed to accept a scholarship from USC — told The Times that he would play running back in college.

"I'm trying to go for the Heisman," he said.

On Saturday, the Oregon sophomore and Los Angeles prep legend returns to the Coliseum when the No. 2 Ducks face No. 18 USC.

"It's a nice stadium," Thomas said this week. "It's nothing different. Just like every other stadium."

A sellout crowd of more than 93,000 is expected for a game once anticipated as a showdown of unbeaten teams vying for the Bowl Championship Series title.

Oregon, 8-0 and fourth in the BCS standings, remains on track for a possible title-game berth. But USC is 6-2 after stumbling against Stanford in September and suffering a devastating loss last week at Arizona.

Have USC's players put last week's defeat out of their minds?

"They don't have a choice," Coach Lane Kiffin said. "We'd get blown out of the stadium if we don't."

No team has stopped Oregon, which averages a nation-best 53 points a game.

Thomas, 5 feet 9 and 176 pounds, has made the most out of his 11 touches a game as a running back, receiver and kick returner. He has scored 11 touchdowns — seven rushing, three receiving and one on a punt return last week against Colorado that left USC players shaking their heads.

"I've never played an athlete with as much acceleration and ability to kick into high gear on the snap," USC safety Jawanza Starling said.

Last January, in his only previous college appearance in the Southland, Thomas electrified the Oregon faithful in the Ducks' 45-38 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. He carried the ball twice, scoring on runs of 91 and 64 yards.

That performance came a little more than a month after he caught a touchdown pass and scored on a 96-yard kickoff return in Oregon's 38-35 loss to USC at Eugene, Ore., an upset that ended Oregon's 21-game home winning streak.

Now, Thomas returns to the stadium where USC coaches and fans hoped he would star for the Trojans.

Thomas still talks frequently with USC linebacker Hayes Pullard and offensive lineman Marcus Martin, former Crenshaw High teammates.

He also played in high school with Geno Hall, the 2009 City player of the year, who was shot Wednesday night outside a Halloween party on USC's campus. Hall does not attend USC.

"He was a former teammate," Thomas said. "I really don't worry about outside forces right now. I'm just worried about what I've got to do to get my team a W. Just play Oregon football, just stay focused."

With senior running back Kenjon Barner and redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota also enjoying big seasons for the Ducks, Thomas won't be USC's only focus. But the Trojans defense and special teams hope to ruin his homecoming.

"We can't let him go out there and jitterbug on us," said Pullard, adding, "Nobody can restart their feet faster than he can."

Thomas expects that a contingent of family and friends will attend what he said would be "a great game." He wasn't sure how large the group would be.

"I couldn't really get any extra tickets," he said, "but I should be fine."

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

Staff writer David Wharton contributed to this story.

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