Written By Evan McShane (@reasonableguy)
No one likes to be told they aren’t good enough. It’s a hard pill to swallow. This can be the reality some high school football players face when they turn to junior college. There is no uniform path to make it to the Big Ten – Ian Thomas and Richard Lagow are prime examples. The quarterback and tight end share a special bond having risen the ranks via junior college football, also known as JUCO. Lagow explains, “The JUCO experience is very unique and not a lot of guys can understand it when you talk about it; just kind of the struggles that you go through at junior college and how much we appreciate every single thing about being at a place like Indiana University because we didn't have any of this at JUCO.”
While the two seniors have worked tirelessly to fit in with the team, they had an easier time getting along with each other because of their days in junior college. Regarding his relationship with Ian Thomas specifically, Lagow elaborates, “it's a unique bond that he and I have and all junior college kids have.” Ian Thomas shared that sentiment, “We had a relationship before we committed here since we both went to JUCO.” When asked about the chip on their shoulder coming from junior college, Thomas responded, “Definitely a big chip. Rich took a different path than me. He went to school straight out of high school, but I went to JUCO straight out of high school. We still have that connection.” A connection shared among all junior college football players who have made their way to Division I programs.
Richard Lagow certainly took a different path from Plano, Texas to JUCO to Bloomington, Indiana. He had several stops along the way. As an unranked three-star quarterback, he committed to the UConn Huskies in February of 2013 after a rocky recruitment. Unhappy at Connecticut, he transferred to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in August that same year before the season began. He was a walk-on at Oklahoma State and he spent one year there as a redshirt. Facing less than promising playing time with the Cowboys, Lagow transferred to Cisco Junior College in the summer of 2014. During his two seasons at Cisco, Lagow amassed over 4,500 yards passing and 38 touchdowns. He became a top-ranked, pro-style junior college quarterback by ESPN and made his way back to Division I. Unorthodox to say the least, but Lagow will be a junior college supporter for life after it helped him get to IU. “No matter where those JUCO kids go; there could be a JUCO kid sign out to Purdue, or our rival, or whatever it might be, and I'm still going to wish nothing but the best for him because I know what he's been through. It's like a fraternity almost.”
Ian Thomas took the more traditional route by attending junior college directly after finishing high school in Baltimore, Maryland. Without the attention from big time scouts, the two-star recruit packed his bags for Nassau Community College in New York where he played for two seasons. Perhaps the JUCO environment was what Thomas needed to bolster his game. He was an All-Conference selection, team captain, and helped his team to a 10-0 record. His size, speed, and prowess in the passing game caught the eye of scouts. By his second season Thomas was rated the second-best junior college tight end in the country by ESPN. Ian Thomas chose IU over several other schools, and he looks primed to demonstrate his full skill set with Mike DeBord running the offense.
After Thomas and Lagow excelled at the JUCO level, they arrived at Indiana University as juniors last season. Despite travelling through numerous places to get here, it’s the JUCO tie that brought Lagow and Thomas together in the first place. “It definitely helped us right off the bat,” Lagow said. They spent most of their junior years getting accustomed to the Big Ten and simply getting to know their teammates. Lagow has unquestionable talent. He showed great promise on the field in his first season at IU, but he needed more confidence to run the team. Based on everything coming out of camp, he has made those strides. Thomas echoed that sentiment, “Richard stepped up big time. Especially leading the team as a quarterback. Speaking up, him giving orders to the team, and guys buying in and listening.”
Lagow looked poised and composed against an Ohio State team who has NFL-level talent at multiple defensive positions. Some believe OSU has five future first round draft picks on their defensive line alone. “That’s not normal,” Tom Allen said regarding the Buckeye’s talent. We will learn more about Richard Lagow’s improvement over the next several games, but everything he’s shown so far has been positive. He’s speaking up, and his teammates are buying in. Ian Thomas is already in the midst of a major breakthrough. Last year he caught only three passes for 28 yards during the regular season, and had two catches for 26 yards in the Foster Farms Bowl. Thomas opened eyes on August 31st, showing fans what he can do as a threat in the passing game. Against Ohio State, Thomas had five receptions, 53 yards, and two touchdowns.
Get used to hearing announcers say “Lagow to Thomas” more often. With both players a healthy 6-foot-5, they have an easy time seeing over the top of defenses. Look for Ian Thomas to become absolutely lethal in the red zone. With so much attention drawn to Simmie Cobbs and Donovan Hale, things could open up in the middle of the field for Lagow and Thomas. It’s clear their bond off the field is starting to translate to the gridiron. Speaking of their connection, Thomas explained, “It's grown over time just being on the field together and growing our relationship.” Lagow has taken a liking to his new passing target as well, “He’s awesome. I love that kid.” Referencing their JUCO bond and budding relationship, Lagow continues, “That’s what popped it off, but it’s grown a lot since then.”
The growth of Thomas and Lagow’s relationship embodies the backbone of head coach Tom Allen’s philosophy. Allen knows he can get infinitely more out of a player if that player knows Allen truly cares about him as a person not just a football player. In that same sense, Allen knows his players have a better chance at success if they care about each other as people. Lagow explains this connection and subsequent chain reaction, “Having to trust in your teammates, being so close, you know that they're going to do everything in their power to make a play for you; and they know that you're going to do the same for them. So, when you have that kind of love for each other and respect for each other it changes a lot.” Allen and all of Hoosier nation are hoping the “love each other” mantra will translate into winning games and attracting recruits. Lagow and Thomas have proven Indiana is a place where JUCO prospects can thrive as well.
Lagow and Thomas will be back on the field Saturday at 3:30 as the Hoosiers take on the Virginia Cavaliers. The game can be seen on ESPNU.