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The Amazing Mr. Thomas

Editor's Note: Today, "K-State Sports Extra" finalizes its nine-part look at the 2010 Wildcats with each assistant coach taking an in-depth look at his respective position.
 
 
By Mark Janssen
 
 
In 2009, Kansas State co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dana Dimel said of ace dasher Daniel Thomas, "It's amazing what he did without a great knowledge of the position. Now I'm anxious to see how much better he'll be."
 
Thomas was a prep quarterback at Hilliard, Fla., and again at his next stop at Northwest Mississippi Community College. When he signed at K-State, he was looked at briefly as a wide receiver and considered at quarterback before finally landing in the backfield, honestly, for the first time in his career.
 
"He came in and didn't know the system and didn't know much about being a running back. All he knew was how to run with the football," said Dimel. "He certainly didn't understand the intricacies of being a running back and reading blocks and understanding coverages."
 
Even Thomas said of his junior season, "I was just running wild."
 
Run wild he did, leading the Big 12 Conference by averaging 105.4 yards per game and scoring 11 rushing touchdowns. He rushed for 185 yards against Kansas, 145 against Colorado, 139 against Tennessee Tech, 136 versus Louisiana and 104 against UMass. Against the best of the best, Thomas galloped for 99 yards against Nebraska, punished Texas A&M for 91 and Oklahoma for 88 yards.
 
With a 12-game season under his belt, Dimel said Thomas was "50 percent" better in the spring in his understanding of the position, and he hopes another "25 percent" was added during the summer.
 
His 40-speed is a modest 4.6, but as Dimel says, "He may be a 4.6 guy, but he's also a 4.6 guy with his pads on, and he's a 4.6 guy on his 25th carry. He's strong enough to maintain his speed. I hope he will play even faster this year because of the off-season conditioning program, which he didn't have during the summer of 2009."
 
Thomas, who played last year at 228 pounds but has beefed up to 232 this year, also caught 25 passes last year for 257 yards, with Dimel calling Thomas' hands "... real good ... really, really good." And of his blocking, the Wildcat coach said, "He's strong and not afraid. He doesn't mind putting his face into people."
 
Thomas has a goal to hit 1,600 yards this season, but Dimel says he can have fewer yards than last year and be even more productive to the Wildcat offense because of the "focus he's going to attract."
 
While Keithen Valentine played a change-of-pace dasher for the Wildcats last year with 374 rushing yards and six scores, that backup role this season will likely come from 5-9, 209-pound William Powell. Powell, a senior after transferring from Navarro Junior College in 2009, played primarily on special teams last year.
 
"William is a 4.45 guy who probably is the second fastest guy on our team (to Terrance Sweeney)," said Dimel. "Keithen was only a 4.7 guy, so William will give us some quickness that we didn't have a year ago."
 
A huge plus to the backfield will be the return of 6-3, 244-pound fullback Braden Wilson. 
 
"He gives us nice versatility because he can catch the ball so well and he's athletic enough to block on the edge. He has the size and toughness to block in the box and he can run the ball," said DImel. "He's a Brian Goolsby (Kansas State's fullback in 1995-98) kind of athlete."
 
BACK WHEN: As a prepster at Smith Center (Kan.) High School, Wilson had a four-year undefeated career. As a senior, Wilson rushed for 1,807 yards and 29 touchdowns. In one game, Smith Center scored 72 points ... in the first quarter for a national high school record.
 
COACH DIMEL, co-offensive coordinator/running backs, 13th season at Kansas State: Played for the Wildcats in 1985-86 after transferring from Hutchinson Community College ... served as a graduate assistant on Stan Parrish's staff prior to the arrival of Bill Snyder and continued coaching through the 1996 campaign ... was the head coach at Wyoming in 1997-99 and Houston in 2000-02 before becoming an assistant at Arizona (2006-08) prior to his return to K-State in 2009.