NEW ORLEANS — If any average-sized man saw Logan Thomas running at him, the natural reaction would probably be to run the other way in a full panic.

Thomas is a big man. At 6-foot-6, 254 pounds, the redshirt sophomore could do some serious damage.

“(Thomas) is bigger than some of our defensive lineman,” said Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison on Saturday. “This guy, he’s an athlete.”

Junior defensive end Craig Roh said Thomas reminds him of a tight end. Other Michigan players said Thomas reminds them of a big wide receiver or a basketball player.

In reality, Thomas is none of those. He’s the man the Michigan defenders have been preparing for ever since they learned they’d be playing Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. Thomas is the Hokies’ starting quarterback.

But Thomas didn’t always envision himself as the man behind center.

“Growing up, I’ve always been told, I need to play quarterback, I need to play quarterback,” Thomas said.

“I knew I could play it, I knew I could lead the team. I just kind of didn’t want to because I grew up picturing myself catching the ball instead of throwing it.”

At Brookville High School in Lynchburg, Va., Thomas did just about everything. He played wide receiver, tight end and defensive back before converting to quarterback his junior year.

In all four years at Brookville, Thomas always felt most comfortable making plays downfield rather than behind center. It showed in the recruiting reports, too — many recruiting experts tabbed Thomas as the No. 1 tight end in the class of 2009.

But he continued to hear the same thing from those around him: You need to play quarterback.

Still, when he committed to Virginia Tech in November of 2008, he did so as a hybrid receiver/tight end, and coaches told him he had a good chance of seeing significant playing time as a freshman.

But when Thomas arrived on campus, Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring couldn’t help but agree with everyone else who thought Thomas should be a quarterback.

Before the first practice that year, Stinespring had a conversation with quarterback coach Mike McCain.

“Take a look at Logan and see what you think about him as a quarterback,” Stinespring told McCain.

At the time, the thought of putting Thomas at quarterback had never even crossed McCain’s mind. But McCain — who has coached at the college level for over 35 years — took Stinespring’s request to heart.

Before that first day of practice, he pulled Thomas aside.

“We’d like to look at you (at quarterback) for three or four days,” McCain told him. “I think I can kind of get an idea as far as (whether) you have a chance to play.”

Thomas agreed to give it a shot, but he was hesitant.

“I just never saw myself growing up to do it,” he said. “It was different for me.”

After the four-day tryout, McCain believed Thomas had the potential to be a three-year starting quarterback if he redshirted his freshman year, then served as a back-up for then-starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

McCain knew Thomas would need the redshirt year to hone his skills — especially his accuracy.

“He’d have a hard time hitting those dummies over there three out of 10 times,” McCain said, pointing to the nearby tackle dummies in the Superdome. “He had awful accuracy, I mean awful.

“But you saw some potential. He had a very strong arm, he had a very quick delivery. He picked up what we were doing very quickly — his game management, he got the motions right, he got the timing on motions — all those little things that most people take for granted. For a guy in three days to be able to grasp that very quickly told me a lot about him.”

Thomas agreed to go along with the plan, even with his original hopes to be a receiver.

After redshirting in 2009, Thomas was still unsure of his role or if the plan would work out. But he stuck with it. And last season, he saw the gamble start to pay off.

“When spring (of my second year) came, I moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart (behind Taylor), and that’s really when I started running with the position,” Thomas said. “I knew if anything happened to Tyrod, I would have to go in.”

Thomas appeared in seven games as a redshirt freshman, completing 12-of-26 passes for 107 yards — definitely not eye-popping numbers, but he proved to himself and others that he could be a dynamic quarterback for the Hokies.

After Taylor graduated last year, the reins were handed to Thomas, who took them and ran.

This season, he became just the second Virginia Tech quarterback in history to score 10 rushing touchdowns and was named to the all-ACC second team. He threw for nearly 2800 yards, 19 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.

Thomas has launched himself into the national conversation, garnering attention from NFL scouts as a redshirt sophomore.

The NFL scouts certainly aren’t the only ones who have taken note of Thomas’s size and ability.

“He looks like an athlete,” said redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs. “I think that’s the main thing, and that’s why he’s such a good quarterback, because he’s had that history of playing different positions.”

Fifth-year senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen was one of many Michigan defenders impressed with Thomas’s strength.

“You see at times where he’s got guys around his legs trying to sack him, and he’s just still standing lookin’ downfield,” Van Bergen said. “It’s impressive, it really is.

“Most guys think when you play defense, (once) you get to the quarterback, your job’s over. With him, he adds a new dimension, because when you get to him, probably the hardest part is to bring him down.”

Still, the Wolverines are looking forward to playing against the second-biggest quarterback in all of Division-I football.

“He’s gonna have to pay taxes if he wants to run the ball,” said senior defensive tackle Mike Martin. “By the third, fourth quarter, we don’t want him wanting to run as much. We want his body hurtin’.”

Just two years ago, Thomas was challenged to convert from a big, physical tight end into a quarterback.

Now, his challenge is going up against one of the most successful defensive lines in the nation in the Sugar Bowl. Game on.

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