During the month of August and leading up to the kickoff of the high school football season, PSN will profile some of the top players in the WPIAL. These player previews and our 2018 High School Football coverage is sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts of Pittsburgh, proud sponsors of high school football in Western Pennsylvania.
When Corey Thomas Jr. has a difficult time falling asleep the night before games, he flips on old highlights of NFL players Sean Taylor and Ed Reed.
“Those are just two people I try to model my game after,” Thomas Jr. said of the duo. “Sean Taylor was a do-it-all safety at 6-foot-2, that’s something I like, and Ed Reed was just a complete ball hawk.”
Thomas Jr., who is 6-foot-3, is built similar to Taylor. A long and lanky safety with tremendous lateral range and that can fall back into coverage. His frame projects to add more weight, suggesting he could even play linebacker, but his fluidity and speed are better suited for the secondary. It’s easy to see a little bit of the former Washington Redskin in Thomas Jr.’s game.
“I can cover very well, and I can come up and tackle well,” Thomas Jr. said of his playing style. “I just fell like I’m a complete package.”
He stood out at the Rivals 3 Stripe Camp in Columbus back in May, and Rivals recruiting analyst Josh Helmholdt noted him among the day’s top performers, saying this about the safety:
“Thomas has a chance to be a great safety. He has a huge frame, covers a ton of ground, and has great ball skills. Wide receivers could not escape his grasp during the cat-and-mouse drills because of his great wingspan. In the one-on-one session, quarterbacks had very little success throwing to receivers in the middle of field against Thomas and they didn’t even try to test him with jump balls down the field.”
The 2019 prospect is a consensus three-star recruit and both Rivals and 247 Sports rank him among the top 20 players in Pennsylvania. Navy, Army, Indiana, and several Mid-American Conference schools have offered scholarships.
Thomas Jr.’s offseason was highly publicized as the senior transferred from Central Catholic to Penn Hills. He has lived in the Penn Hills district for several years and attended Serra Catholic in McKeesport as a freshman. He’s excited to be back playing with his childhood friends.
“I knew a lot of these guys growing up,” Thomas Jr. said. “So just getting back on the field with them, playing with them, is just so much fun. I look forward to going to practice everyday and can’t wait to go to war with these guys.”
“All the hard work I’ve put in this offseason with my guys, just for it to finally be here, and we can go show what we’ve been working on. It’s exciting.”
Penn Hills dropped to Class 5A for the upcoming season and is certainly among the contenders to unseat defending WPIAL champion Gateway. With the addition of Thomas Jr., the Indians have an abundance of Division I talent and maybe western Pennsylvania’s deepest secondary.
“Just from practice I can already how much fun it’s going to be,” Thomas Jr. said of the defense. “Looking out to my left, and I see Daequan Hardy. I’ve got Dante Cephas at the other corner, and our linebackers are just so fast.”
Hardy has offers from Michigan and Michigan State, and Cephas is being recruited by MAC schools. All three defensive backs also play wide receiver.
“We’re just such a fast defense, and we just really fly around out there,” Thomas Jr. said. “Our expectation is each game we don’t want to let up a single touchdown all year. So that’s our goal and we’re going to continue work through that and get better each day.”
Thomas Jr. has been playing safety for only two years but has quickly ascended to the WPIAL’s best. He’s one of the many reasons why Penn Hills’ defense will be worth watching on Friday nights.
It’s the type of defense Taylor would want to play on.