As Reggie Bush ran his way into national headlines and a No. 2 selection in the 2006 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints, Jahad Thomas watched from his home in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
The junior running back admired Bush and molded his game after the University of Southern California’s dynamic runner.
“When I was younger and I first saw Reggie Bush play, that was the style I was,” Thomas said. “Just to see how shifty he was and how quick he was and how he made quick decisions, making people miss.”
During the Owls’ 30-16 win against Central Florida at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday, Thomas carried the ball 31 times for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Through six games, Thomas has tallied 756 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns.
Since 2005, four Owls have totaled 10 or more rushing touchdowns and five have rushed for 750 yards or more.
“He’s definitely a weapon for us, and I’m glad that he’s my running back,” redshirt-freshman wide receiver Ventell Bryant said. “I love blocking for him because he makes guys miss. He does a lot of things with the ball in his hands.”
Thomas’ 126 rushing yards per game average is the highest since former running back Bernard Pierce averaged 123.4 yards per game in 2011.
Thomas’ 756 yards rushing also lead the American Athletic Conference. South Florida sophomore running back Marlon Mack is second in The American with 689 yards rushing.
“You get the ball in his hands,” junior quarterback P.J. Walker said. “He can make a few guys miss, which is his deal. He goes out there and does his job. He balls out for us.”
Coach Matt Rhule said when the coaching staff saw Thomas practicing in the spring, they knew he would be a productive runner this season, but they didn’t foresee his current running style.
“I don’t think we realized how physical Jahad was running the ball,” Rhule said. “We thought he was more of a scat guy. He’s surprising everyone in a good way.”
Thomas has carried the ball 145 times this season, including four games with 25 or more carries. Coming into this season, Thomas carried the ball a total of 80 times and did not have any games with 15 or more carries.
Thomas put on 10 pounds this offseason to prepare for the increased work load.
“I think that helped me out a lot,” Thomas said. “Being able to break more tackles and be more of a physical runner.”
The increase in carries also had an effect on Thomas’ body. The junior said after Saturday’s 30-16 win against Central Florida that he has a “nagging shoulder injury.”
“I feel banged up every day,” Thomas said. “That’s not nothing new. I just have to get treatment and start the recovery process.”
Despite Thomas’ injury, Rhule has relied on Thomas to carry the rushing load.
Thomas has carried more than 73 percent of the total running back rush attempts this season. Freshman Ryquell Armstead is second on the team in carries with 30 rushing attempts. Thomas is on pace to finish the season with 290 carries, which would be the most since Pierce carried the ball 273 times in 2011.
“We are going to try and win every game,” Rhule said. “A game like [Saturday], if we have to use him, we are going to use him.”
Thomas’ 15 receptions for 181 yards receiving are third and second on the team, respectively. His one receiving touchdown ranks second on the team.
“Me coming in, I always wanted to be great,” Thomas said. “I still want to be great. … I told myself I was going to play hard each and every play.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise.