Blue Chip countdown: UM's Ambry Thomas grew as player, leader

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Detroit King's Ambry Thomas had 37 catches for 902 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading his team to a second consecutive Division 2 title.

The Detroit News continues its countdown of the top 15 Blue Chip recruits for 2017 with Ambry Thomas of Detroit King at No. 2.

Ambry Thomas played a huge role on a star-studded team his junior year, grabbing a 41-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to help rally Detroit King back from a 31-13 deficit for a dramatic 40-38 victory over Lowell in the 2015 Division 2 state championship game.

With more than a handful of Division 1 players from that state title team moving on to college ball, Thomas returned to King, this time in the role of leader and four-star cornerback/receiver.

Thomas had to lead in difficult times after the death of King head coach Dale Harvel, who suffered a fatal heart attack while watching the team’s 7-on-7 competition in late July.

Thomas and his teammates dedicated the season in Harvel’s memory and they responded by repeating as state champions. Thomas had a special season, coming through with 37 receptions for 902 yards and 14 TDs, including a 9-yard scoring catch to give the King a 6-0 lead in a 18-0 state title game win over Walled Lake Western.

Thomas also intercepted two passes this past season while playing shutdown cornerback in just about every game other than the two losses to rival and Division 1 state champion Detroit Cass Tech and five-star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. That's just one reason Thomas, who will play at Michigan, earned a spot on The Detroit News Dream Team.

“It was special to win the state championship, especially with all the pressure being on us, just having to fight through all the adversity,” Thomas said. “We had to get the younger kids to the right mindset so they could think like we thought. We had to be more focused. I had to be more of a vocal leader and leader by example rather than just telling them to do it.

“It helped me to stay humble and I grew up a lot. I had to step down to let the younger kids get some shine because he (head coach Tyrone Spencer) told me that after the first game. I didn’t touch the ball the next three games and he told me why, though. I had to build the other kids’ confidence and I was cool with it. I never complained. I had to be a selfless player.”

Thomas set the tempo for the season when he had three receptions for 111 yards in the first half of a 39-0 rout of Southfield A&T in the opener, hauling in a 34-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead, then a 62-yard reception to set up another score.

Blue Chip countdown: UM's Ross radiates big-play skill

“Ambry is as athletic as they come,” Spencer said. “He’s a true competitor. He has a high football IQ and won’t back down from nobody.”

Thomas was a team player and had no satisfaction in having a good game offensively if he had a tough time defensively. Such was the case in the PSL title game loss to Cass Tech when he scored three TDs — catches of 37, 18 and 29 yards — but also gave up big plays while defending Peoples-Jones.

“It don’t mean nothing because we lost,” said Thomas of his TD grabs after the 41-20 loss at Ford Field in front of a large crowd, including Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. “I love competition, never back away from great competition, so it was real nice to play against great defensive backs and great receivers.”

Thomas will play his college ball at Michigan, picking the Wolverines over Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Louisville, LSU and Oklahoma.

“They have a great coaching staff, one of the best defensive coordinators (Don Brown) in the country and they know how to get players to the next level, since a lot of them have NFL experience,” Thomas said. “I also know I’ll get a great education.”

It was difficult for Thomas to say no to Michigan State.

“I love their coaching staff, cool with all their coaches. It’s like a family there,” said Thomas of the Spartans. “I just feel Michigan was the better defensive school for me. I’ve still been talking to them (Spartans). It’s because of the relationships I’ve built with them.”

Thomas has enrolled early to get a head start with the football program. He left King as one of the school’s all-time greats and a big-time leader, sprinting toward the end zone, along with his teammates, at Ford Field following the state title game win in memory of Harvel, who had implemented those 110-yard sprints in past years to make sure his players were well conditioned.

“It was like an emotional feeling for Coach Harv,” said Thomas following that state championship game win.


No. 2: Ambry Thomas, CB, Detroit King (Michigan)

No. 3: Josh Ross, LB, Orchard Lake St. Mary's (Michigan)

No. 4: Jaylen Kelly-Powell, DB, Detroit Cass Tech (Michigan)

No. 5: Donovan Johnson, DB, Detroit Cass Tech (Penn State)

No. 6: Antjuan Simmons, LB, Ann Arbor Pioneer (Michigan State)

No. 7: Cody White, WR, Walled Lake Western (Michigan State)

No. 8: Corey Malone-Hatcher, DE/LB, St. Joseph (Michigan)

No. 9: Jordan Reid, OT, Detroit Cass Tech (Michigan State)

No. 10: Deron Irving-Bey, DE, Flint Southwestern (Michigan)

No. 11: Phillip Paea, DT, Berrien Springs (Michigan)

No. 12: Hunter Rison, WR, Ann Arbor Skyline (Michigan State)

No. 13: JaRaymond Hall, OL, Oak Park (Michigan)

No. 14: Scott Nelson, S, U-D Jesuit (Wisconsin)

No. 15: Rodney Hall, QB, Detroit Cass Tech (Northern Illinois)