Don’t Call It a Comeback

One-time UO star Darron Thomas set to lead the Portland Thunder

Darron Thomas on the run during his time as QB for the Ducks. (Photo: Eric Evans)

Former University of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas went 24-3 as a starter for the Ducks, leading Chip Kelly’s teams to two Pac-12 championships, two BCS bowl games, an undefeated regular season, and within seconds of the school’s first national championship.

Darron Thomas (Photo: Athletic
department)

His college success, however, did not continue at the next level. Thomas left the UO after his junior year, and went undrafted in the NFL. He walked on to the practice squad of a Canadian Football League team in 2012, and then signed with a team in the Champions Professional Indoor Football League, but failed to earn playing time.

Thomas is hoping the Arena Football League proves to be the path to playing time and, if all goes well, an NFL contract.

The Portland Thunder is the newest franchise in the AFL, a 14-team indoor football league whose games will air on ESPN2  this season. While playing at the Moda Center is not the same as playing at Autzen Stadium or Lambeau Field, for Thomas it is a chance to follow in the footsteps of Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner and Tommy Maddox, quarterbacks who parlayed stints in the AFL into NFL contracts and Super Bowl wins.

Although Thunder head coach Matthew Sauk, who as offensive coordinator helped the Spokane Shock win Arena Bowl XXIII in 2010, wouldn’t commit to a starting quarterback for the team’s opening game on March 17, Thomas already has an idea of who he thinks should get the nod—him.

“That’s my expectation,” Thomas said. “That’s everybody’s expectation. All 40 guys here think they’re going to be the starter, and nobody can tell them different.”

Thomas throws during the 2012 Rose Bowl
Game. (Photo: Steve Dykes)

If it is in fact Thomas, it may be because of the similarities between Sauk’s offense and that run by former Ducks head coach Chip Kelly.

“Coach Sauk has a similar offense,” said Thomas. “Get the ball out to the playmakers, and take your shots when you can.”

The Thunder roster will definitely look familiar to college football fans in the Northwest. Joining Thomas are linebacker Marquis Jackson (Portland State), receiver Jeffrey Solomon (Washington State), linebacker Bryce Peila (Western Oregon), receiver Justin Monahan (Portland State), receiver Andrae Thurman (Southern Oregon), and offensive lineman Brandon Lockheart (Oregon State).

But if the team hopes to make an impact in its first season, Sauk has to help his players get comfortable with each other as well as playing a sport that is faster and on a smaller field than what they’re accustomed to.

“It’s quick, the guys are right there, and there’s no separation,” says Thomas. “It’s all about placement.

“I think the mental curve is what we’ve got to get up to. Especially on offense, coach Sauk has this great offense where everybody’s moving, and we’ve got to get synched together.”

The Thunder are owned by Portland businessman, Terry Emmert, who joins ESPN analyst and former football player, Ron Jaworski (arena team: the Philadelphia Soul) and rock stars, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley (arena team: the L.A. KISS) as AFL team owners. The team lost their home-opening game, 64-34, to the San Jose Sabercats. Next up is the Iowa Barnstormers on March 24 at the Moda Center.