Lawrence Thomas, considered one of the nation’s best inside linebackers, has 4.6 speed. (John M. Galloway/The Detroit News)
Detroit— Michigan State seems to have found the perfect fit with Detroit Renaissance.
Mark Dantonio, who completed his fourth season as the Spartans coach, is 4 for 4 in signing players from the Public School League school, adding linebacker Lawrence Thomas to the list for the Class of 2011.
"It's perfect timing," Thomas said of the connection.
According to CBS recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, Thomas is the undisputed choice as the state's top player.
"He's one of the top inside linebackers in the country," Lemming said.
Thomas became the sixth consecutive PSL player to be named the No. 1 Blue Chip Prospect by The Detroit News, and is the first player from Renaissance to receive the honor.
"I'm speechless," Thomas, 17, said. "It's an honor. I look at all the work I've done to get here. My dad just pushed me to get to where I'm at. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be in this position. And it was my mom who pushed me academically. She was on me for my grades."
What recruiters and experts around the country like about Thomas is his ability to make tackles sideline to sideline.
He also is quick for a player his size (6-foot-4, 245 pounds), running the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds.
"He did everything for us," Renaissance coach Antonio Watts said. "He's the first player we've had to make All-America. We're going to miss him."
Fast and smart
Thomas got a taste of what the college game is like when he competed in the Under Armour All-America game in St. Petersburg, Fla., last week.
Thomas was the only player from Michigan to play in what is one of the country's two premier all-star games (the other is the U.S. Army Game in San Antonio, Texas). Among the 90 players there, 19 were from Florida, and California and Georgia had 10 players apiece.
"Southern football is different," Thomas said. "They're faster. They're bigger. It's a different mind-set. Our linemen up here are big. But down there they know how to move.
"It was the speed of the game that was different. Everything moved faster. Bam. Bam. Bam. I kept up. It just makes you better."
But what helps Thomas even more is his football smarts.
And the reason for that is attention to details.
Just as he does with his parents, Thomas listens to his coaches. He watches film and is prepared when he steps on the field.
"I read my keys," Thomas said. "If the linemen have wide splits, I know it's going to be a run.
"There will be times when I just know what play they're going to run. I'll tell my teammates and there it is."
When Thomas arrives in East Lansing, he's sure to have an advantage over other incoming freshmen.
And that's all because of the Dantonio-Renaissance pipeline.
"It feels good to keep the pipeline going," Thomas said. "It feels real good."
Thomas will join former Renaissance teammates Chris Norman, a linebacker who started this season; Dana Dixon, who's competing for playing time at defensive back; and freshman defensive back Mylan Hicks, who redshirted last season, at Michigan State.
So, could Dantonio land five top players from Renaissance in five years?
Jabari Dean is a 6-1, 280-pound junior defensive tackle at Renaissance. Last week, Dean received a scholarship offer from Michigan State.
"Dantonio said he wants this to be hisstate," Watts said. "He's truthful.
"He never gave them false promises. He told Chris (Norman) he'd have the opportunity to play. He told Lawrence the same thing. You can't make promises. You can't project what a kid will do."