Putting in the time week after week in practice only to spend Friday nights standing on the sidelines would have discouraged a lot of players. But not Thomas, who lives and breathes football and kept working hard everyday, hoping his time might eventually come.
It did – in Week 5 against East Paulding. Starting Z-back Darius Meabon was injured, so Thomas was moved into a rotation at Z-back with Emmanuel Williams against the Raiders. It was Thomas who stood out, and the rest is history.
"He's the kind of football player you love to coach," New Manchester head coach Rob Cleveland said. "He doesn't talk with his mouth, he talks with his pads and he just continued to do that everyday in practice. He caught the coaches' eyes and when he got his chance on Friday night he did a good job for us and he's been the starter ever since."
Thomas is second on the team with 478 yards rushing on 86 carries (an average of 5.55 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns, a performance that's all the more impressive given that just about all of that production has come in the past four games.
"I always go home and do my school work and stay focused," Thomas said. "I watch a lot of football, so I learn a lot from that. I always have my mind on football and just try to be a better player everyday."
Football has always been big in the Thomas family. Thomas' father, Melton, is a long-time fan of the Dallas Cowboys. So naturally, Malik Thomas spent a lot of time watching the Cowboys growing up.
Melton Thomas used to tell his son about what a great running back Emmitt Smith was. Malik Thomas remembers his dad's stories about Smith and seeing his dad wearing Smith's blue and silver No. 22 jersey.
Malik Thomas was too young to watch Smith when he was helping lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. But one day Thomas decided to look up Smith online, found some old highlights of Smith and decided his dad's favorite Cowboy seemed like a good role model.
This year, Thomas changed his number to 22, in part to pay homage to his dad's love of the Cowboys and Emmitt Smith.
Fittingly, Cleveland's description of the way Thomas runs the ball resembles a lot of what was said about Smith and his running style 20 years ago.
"He's got speed, he's got good vision and he can run over people," Cleveland said. "He already is a special player to us. But we think he's going to be even better next year as a senior. We're excited about his progress. All the playing time he's gotten to this point he's deserved."