ATHENS, Ga. — At just 5-foot-7, Carlton Thomas is well aware that his height is the first thing most people notice about him.
As an SEC tailback being hunted by burly lineman and hard-hitting linebackers, Thomas also knows there are plenty of people who believe he’s not big enough to handle the demands of running the football in the toughest conference in the country. He hears it all the time.
“Everybody else is going to have their say so, but it’s really up to the coaches and how much confidence you can build up in them,” Thomas said.
When Thomas was young, all the criticism hurt. People said he was too small, and who was he to argue?
Thomas had dreams of playing at the highest levels of football, but as he moved up the ranks, the opposition simply got bigger and bigger. It didn’t seem to matter that he kept running past the taller, stronger defenders. People couldn’t get past his size.
“There was a time when I was younger when it got me down a little,” Thomas said. “I wondered why everybody made a big deal that I was small when there was nothing I could do about it.”
It was Thomas’ parents who eventually lifted the weight off his shoulders. Sure, people would talk. But those were just words, they told him. What mattered was what he could accomplish.
If Thomas wanted to quiet the critics and have the confidence to overcome his size, he simply had to outwork everyone else.
“As I got older (the hurt) kind of left me, and I decided that the way you work is what’s going to count in the end,” Thomas said.
After that, challenges motivated Thomas rather than intimidated him.
He was dominant at Frostproof High School in Florida, rushing for nearly 2,400 yards as a senior and earning high school all-America honors.
His success drew college recruiters, but many of them had the same concerns.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo admits, he wasn’t sold on the idea of Thomas as an every-down back when the Bulldogs began recruiting him.
But for once, it wasn’t Thomas’ size that stood out. It was his attitude.
“Carlton has always had a lot of confidence in himself because he’s been hearing it his whole life that he’s not big enough to play running back or play at this level,” Bobo said. “He’s a very confident guy, and he worked very hard.”
Thomas chose to play at Georgia, he said, because he knew the coaching staff there would give him a fair chance to compete. He didn’t expect anyone to hand him a job. He didn’t even expect them to make it easy on him. He knew finding carries in the SEC would be an uphill battle, but those challenges were what made it so much fun.
He redshirted last season while Knowshon Moreno, Caleb King and Richard Samuel got the playing time. Leaving the field after practice, however, players routinely raved about the moves Thomas made.
With Samuel sidelined by injury, King solidified his grasp on the starting tailback job vacated by Moreno this spring. Thomas remains in the competition for playing time after successful scrimmages.
In Georgia’s G-Day game, Thomas had 59 yards rushing and a touchdown, earning the award for most improved running back at the end of spring practice.
Thomas added 10 pounds to his frame over the summer, and in Georgia’s two scrimmages this fall, he totaled 150 yards on just 11 carries.
“He’s come out here and worked his tail off,” McClendon said. “He made it where it’s pretty much impossible to say you have to leave him out, and that won’t be the case. He’s earned it.”