By HANK KURZ Jr.
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Logan Thomas is brimming with confidence heading into his final college season.
The senior quarterback at Virginia Tech hasn’t received any of the advance accolades that preceded a dismal junior year, but a new coach and an improved mindset have him expecting a big finish.
Virginia Tech went 7-6 last season, its worst season in 20 years. Only a bowl victory against Rutgers prevented a losing record, and a streak of eight seasons with at least 10 victories also ended.
Thomas was pedestrian, completing just 51.3 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
“For me, 7-6 is completely unacceptable and that’s not what I’m used to,” Thomas said before a recent 7 on 7 workout. “I’ve been a winner everywhere in everything I’ve done, and 7-6 is nothing fun.
“We closed out the season on a good note, which was a good thing. I was happy for it, but we’d like to restore the regular 10-win thing. I could care less if I’m the best quarterback that’s ever come out of here or anything like that. I just want to leave the place as good as I (found) it with 10-win seasons, Orange Bowl berths and such like that. It’s my job, and it’s an honor to do it for the school.
“It’s my job to keep the perception of Virginia Tech up.”
To make it happen, Thomas has transformed himself in the offseason, working extensively with new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler on mechanics and mindset, and then putting what he has learned to use as one of the organizers of voluntary offseason 7 on 7 workouts against the Hokies defense.
Having Thomas at Virginia Tech was a big draw when Loeffler took the job, the coach said. When he came to campus to interview with coach Frank Beamer, the player he wanted to meet with most was Thomas, who had one day left to decide whether to return for his senior season or turn professional.
The meeting was like a recruiting visit, Loeffler said.
“They’re interviewing you. You’re interviewing them,” he said. “It’s dating. It really is.”
The sigh of relief in Blacksburg came when Thomas agreed to a second date to study under Loeffler, whose previous pupils include Tom Brady, Chad Henne and Tim Tebow — all now NFL quarterbacks.
Before last season, some prognosticators had Thomas as the top quarterback in the draft, a tribute to his combination of deep passing skill, size, and running ability that some compared to Cam Newton.
Fast forward a year, and Thomas’ name no longer shows up on top prospects lists. He is, however, still on the Davey O’Brien Watch List as the top quarterback in the nation.
He scoffs like a quarterback who bears no resemblance to the one the experts think they know.
“I could care less what anybody else thinks of me, what anybody projects me as, because I know the amount of work I’ve had to put in. It’s going to show off when I get a chance to play,” he said.
Loeffler estimates he installed just a quarter of what the Hokies’ offense will be this year before the spring game, and while fans groaned when Thomas very quickly threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, Loeffler said he saw the fruits of his work with Thomas shining through.
“I think, even with what occurred in the spring game, his confidence right now is through the roof,” Loeffler said in his office overlooking the Hokies’ practice field. “I think he, in his mind, thinks he can make every throw. He feels comfortable. He’s worked, he’s trained, he’s reconstructed himself.”
In three months, Loeffler said, Thomas made strides in improving his mechanics and understanding of the position, and the leadership it requires, that most quarterbacks take up to two years to learn.
“What you’re told when you first walk in the door is lead by example, and he never got out of that shell of opening his mouth, holding someone else accountable,” he said. “That has improved immensely.
“When a ball is on the ground, he’s getting after somebody now.”
Thomas’ attention to accountability has continued away from the coach’s eyes, too.
“I’ve definitely seen him growing,” said Kyle Fuller, who organizes the defense for the workouts. “He’s the guy that we all look up to because he’s that leader that we need, and he’s doing a good job.”
Confidence in himself has made it easier to be more outspoken, Thomas said.
“It’s nice for me because I know what I’m talking about now. I definitely understand what’s supposed to be going on, and those guys will listen to me,” he said. “They know that I’ve got my job down.”
In many ways, it’s the culmination of the education of Thomas, who arrived at Virginia Tech expecting to play tight end, but who was quickly convinced his big throwing arm made him a promising prospect.
“I think it’s taken him some time to really embrace the position to where now, he loves it and can’t see himself doing anything different,” said Thomas’ cousin, redshirt junior tight end Zack McCray.
He also knows that while it’s his team, it takes the team to make success possible.
“He doesn’t feel like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders,” McCray said. “I think last year he went out feeling like he had to do everything, and there was a lot of pressure on his shoulders.”
Loeffler loves that Thomas wants to carry that mantle, but told him it’s unrealistic.
“It’s something Coach has been working with me on,” Thomas said. “It’s not just you, it’s we, it’s the whole team, the whole offense, so it’s not always your fault. It’s the team’s fault, first of all, and obviously there’s certain spots where, yeah, it’s your fault, but you can’t take the entire blame.”
It is why, in the 7 on 7 drills, Thomas is quick to point out mistakes, and good plays, as well.
“It will mean a lot,” senior wide receiver D.J. Coles said. “If he’s able to get on guys now in 7 on 7, then when we’re on the field, in a game, if somebody makes a mistake and he gets on them, they won’t take it as something negative, but as something positive and come back and make the play next time.”