Jonesboro's Gatlin, Thomas pave way to opening win

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Saturday, September 2, 2017
Noah Gatlin
Photo by File Photo
Noah Gatlin

— During one point during Thursday night’s 46-21 win over Batesville, Jonesboro head coach Randy Coleman went all in.

It was a fourth-and-short situation when he loaded up the left side of the offensive line with Arkansas commit Noah Gatlin (6-7, 305) and highly-recruited Darius Thomas (6-6, 327).

The Hurricane got the yard they needed and a lot more in their sixth straight win over the Pioneers in the Simmons First Bank Classic at Arkansas State University's Centennial Bank Stadium.

“Noah is left tackle and Darius is right tackle right now,” Coleman said. “We do have a goal line and short-yardage package where we put them on the same side with Noah at guard and Darius at tackle.

“We had to do that one last night on one 4th-and-1 and we ended up gaining 14 by running right behind them. That is a lot of beef on one side when we line up that way.”

Daniel Johnson ran for 172 yards and JiMarcus Bibb for 159 and three touchdowns and the Hurricane piled up 352 yards on the ground.

It was a night when Jonesboro needed to load up in the run as it was woeful in the passing game.

“We ran the ball really well, which is good because we didn’t pass it worth a crap,” Coleman said. “I think we were 2 out of 19 passing. It was raining sideways, the wind was blowing really hard and we had one guy run for 172 and another run for 159. So we did a good job up front with the two boys.”

The Hurricane, who led 14-0 after the first quarter and 23-0 at halftime, did have trouble with penalties as it was flagged 17 times for 165 yards.

“Obviously we are happy with the win, but we have a lot of things to clean up,” Coleman said. “It’s better to work on those after a win than a loss.”

Gatlin committed to Arkansas, one of his 17 scholarship offers which also included Arizona State, Texas Tech, Virginia, Mississippi State, Iowa State and Indiana.

“To start off with, to be 6-7 and 305 pounds and to be really athletic for a big guy with great feet and great hands and to be really, really intelligent is a great start and puts him in the SEC caliber class,” Coleman said.

“But then the intangibles of him being committed, dependable and recently over the last year or so, I have really been impressed with his leadership and he has even become more vocal in the summer and into the season. I just couldn’t be more happier with his development.”

Coleman is pleased with Gatlin’s development.

“As a sophomore he was big and a good player, but it only came in flashes,” Coleman said. “Now he is solid and dependable, just one of those guys that is kind of a cornerstone.”

Thomas has offers from Arkansas, Clemson, LSU, Georgia, Arizona State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn, to name a few.

“Again you look at the athleticism for his size,” Coleman said. “He is pushing 6-6 1/2 and maybe is getting close to 6-7. Right at the end of camp, he weighed 327. He has got that V-shape upper body so there is nothing fat about it. He looks like a basketball player.

“He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan, just a guy who looks like an NFL player to be honest with you. He is still growing as a player. He is kind of in that phase that Noah was in earlier. Last year Darius would show signs of being dominant and then flashes of being a 15-year-old sophomore.”

Coleman is looking for more consistency from Thomas, who has taken two unofficial visits to Arkansas.

“He is probably about 80 percent of everything being dominant to very, very good, but we are just trying to get rid of those lapses,” Coleman said. “The thing that is encouraging is that he is only 16 years old and Noah is only 17. They are both young and we sit here and could talk about the lapses in our concentration and that happens probably a lot more than 20 percent.

“He is progressing really well and you combine them with the three other guys that we have that are really good players and we feel really good about our offensive line.”

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