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December 13, 2013

Robert Thomas steps in for Apopka running game

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When Apopka's Robert Thomas was a freshman, he showed some spark at running back in the spring game. But, with talented running backs ahead of him, the defensive side of the ball was in his immediate future.

By the fall of his sophomore season, he had worked his way into the defensive backfield. He also played some linebacker during his junior season.

The same was planned for him when the 2013 season began, but when Daquon Isom and Ray Ray Smith, Apopka's top two runners, both went down with ankle injuries late in the first half of the next game, Apopka coach Rick Darlington turned to Thomas and fellow defensive back J.J. Simmons.

"I asked them if they remembered their single-wing plays from their freshman season," Darlington said. "They said they did."

Did they ever.

Running out of the tailback spot in the single wing, Thomas ran for 139 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in leading the Blue Darters to a 57-32 victory over Orlando Oak Ridge, which had led Apopka 26-20 at halftime.

The numbers have continued to pile up for Thomas and the Blue Darters in their single-wing offense, as he has rushed for not only a school-record 2,307 yards, but that number is also the best in Metro Conference history (Orange County's public schools).

As a team, Apopka set a state single-season scoring record with 529 points, breaking Jacksonville Trinity Christian's 1999 record by one point. With 23 points in Saturday's Class 8A title game against Homestead South Dade, the Blue Darters will break the all-time state scoring record of 746 set in 2010 by Tampa Jefferson.

Like most smart running backs, Thomas is quick to thank others.

"I have to give all the credit to the offensive line," he said. "They have opened some big holes, and God has blessed us."

Despite the big rushing numbers and the fact that he continues to pay full time on defense, Thomas has received zero interest from colleges.

But, just like a handful of players from Apopka's 2012 state championship team who were under the radar until the team's playoff run, Thomas should start to receive some calls, letters and texts from coaches looking to find a player who will give them his best effort every day in practice and every time the whistle sounds for the game to start.

Called 'Bob' by the Apopka coaching staff and Roddy by his teammates and friends, Thomas is one of those young men who always has a smile on his face and is polite to a fault.

"Bob is a great young man who has had a great senior season," Darlington said. "He will do well in life."

The college offers and life beyond high school will have to wait for a little while. Right now, Thomas and his teammates are just looking for another state championship.

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