In reality, the Owls only need to write one name: Tarrick Thomas.
“We call him – it was a joke back in the spring – ‘The Utility Man,’” preseason All-Conference USA tackle Reggie Bain said. “He can do it all. Guard, tackle center, he can do it all.”
Now a redshirt junior, Thomas came to FAU as a tackle, but moved to guard following his true freshman season. During the spring, with FAU looking for a replacement for graduated all-conference center Antonyo Woods, Thomas learned to snap, working as the starting center throughout spring practices.
“I kind of know all the positions, kind of played them here and there and just learned over time,” said Thomas, with an ever present smile.
Thomas started at guard in 2016 before a knee injury ended that season. Last year he provided depth at a spot where, surprisingly, the Owls didn’t need it. One year after employing eight different starting offensive lines in its first eight games, FAU started the same five players along the line in every game last season.
During the past two seasons Thomas took note of the versatility of Woods, who started games at tackle and guard before becoming the starting center as a senior.
“I kind of learned from him and just picked up his ways,” Thomas said.
This season Thomas likely would have started at center had the Owls not signed graduate transfer Junior Diaz from Tulane during the spring.
Looking to replace three graduated interior linemen, the rapidity with which FAU could build a cohesive offensive line was one of the biggest questions heading into fall camp. Antonio Riles, a graduate transfer from Florida, meshed well with redshirt freshman B. J. Etienne at the other guard, with Diaz in between at center. The trio joined tackles Brandon Walton and Bain to take nearly all the first team offensive line snaps during camp.
Meanwhile, Thomas spent fall camp moving from one offensive line spot to another. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Thomas is quick enough at tackle to redirect pass rushers trying to slither around the end, strong enough at guard to thwart penetrating interior linemen and intelligent enough to make the line calls at center,
“Swiss army knife,” Riles said of Thomas. “I’m excited about guys like him because you can put him anywhere.”
Thomas’ versatility became even more important late last week when second-string tackle Ean Biancardi broke his thumb, forcing him to miss at least the first couple of weeks of the season. The Owls did get some good news earlier this week when JUCO transfer Zack Bennett returned after taking leave to deal with what coach Lane Kiffin called a “family issue.”
“We have a lot of issues and a lot of offensive problems with depth and so anytime guys can do multiple things it helps,” Kiffin said.
With Thomas primarily working at interior line spots during camp, that’s left true freshmen Marquice Robinson and Doug Johnson working as the second-team tackles.
If either Bain or Walton needs a break, FAU could elect to elevate Thomas to one of the guard spots and slide Riles to tackle – a position he hasn’t played at the college level but one he’s worked at a little this fall – but it’s more likely that the Owls will give Thomas the first shot at tackle, thereby leaving the other four starters in their most effective spots.
“You definitely trust him because you know he’s going to get the job done,” Bain said.
At least one of the signal callers in the Owls current QB battle agrees.
“He’s a pretty big guy,” said graduate transfer Rafe Peavey, who began his career at Arkansas. “He looks like any SEC lineman I’ve ever seen.”