Last season, the Paint Branch High School football team had several senior leaders — alpha types on and off the field.
That, newcomer Thomas Lucas decided, was the group he wanted to join.
“Like a lot of young guys, he wanted to be with the cool guys, the top players,” Paint Branch coach Mike Nesmith said.
So Lucas buzzed all over whenever those seniors were around. When a couple of them gathered, he was there. When a few more were chatting several yards away, he was there, too.
Those seniors started calling Lucas “Bug,” and the nickname stuck.
So did Lucas’ willingness to seize every opportunity to get where wants.
Lucas spent the summer attending football camps — at Connecticut, Villanova, Maryland, Towson, Penn State, Temple, Syracuse and more colleges than he can remember — essentially trying out for scholarships. The year prior, as a junior, Lucas was an on-again, off-again starter at defensive back and wide receiver, so the camps were his best way to show his skills.
The entire exercise was a group effort. Lucas practiced footwork with his uncle, worked out with University of Maryland freshman Stefon Diggs and received counsel from H.D. Woodson assistant coach Wayne Johnson.
But above all, Lucas’ mother steered the ship.
Sometimes, Nesmith called college coaches on Lucas’ behalf only to hear that they had just got off the phone with Lucas’ mother.
“I can’t say it enough — really, I’m not saying it with any exaggeration or any embellishment. It was like I had a recruiting assistant,” Nesmith said. “It was almost as if I were her assistant.”
As the summer continued, Lucas still hadn’t received any offers and he figured he’d enter the season without one. Then, he attended Connecticut’s camp.
“I felt like I was with a family. I was on their team already,” Lucas said. “But I was just up there for a day.”
Lucas said he had been looking for a family feeling.
He attended Blake High School as a freshman and Springbrook High School as sophomore, playing junior varsity both years. Looking back, he wishes he would’ve pushed himself more to play varsity as a freshman.
Really, though, he wishes he would’ve spent all four years with Paint Branch, a team that would have forced him up to varsity sooner. Plus, spending only one year at a school wasn’t quite enough to make it feel like home.
So, when Connecticut offered a scholarship a few days after its camp, Lucas accepted immediately. He believed West Virginia, Penn State, Kent State, Villanova and Towson also were close to offering, but that didn’t matter to him. Connecticut, by offering without keeping him hanging like the other schools had, gave him exactly what he wanted.
“They made me feel the same way I felt at Paint Branch,” said Lucas, who is scheduled to play cornerback with the Huskies.
Switching schools twice and a hectic summer — when his mom sent him to camp after camp before he even had a chance to unwind from the last one — had paid off.
“Now, Bug, a year later, he’s the top dog,” Nesmith said. “He’s the guy that end ups with a scholarship better than any of those other guys at larger school. So, Bug is getting the last laugh.”