He chose Ohio State over Michigan State, the other perceived favorite for Thurman, because of his desire to win and to develop into a tight end that can play at the next level. Thurman has helped Langston Hughes (Fairburn, Georgia) to a 3-0 start this season, catching six passes for 116 yards and three touchdowns. As a junior, he hauled in 31 passes for 479 yards and seven touchdowns.
Eleven Warriors caught up with Langston Hughes head coach Daniel Williams to get his thoughts on what type of player Thurman is, why he chose Ohio State and the standout tight end's love for the superhero Spider-Man.
This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: When did you first know that Jelani was going to be a big-time college prospect?
Daniel Williams: When Jelani walked in the building. I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I had watched him when he was 12 and coming up in little league. But when he walked through the building as a 10th grader, he was 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds. Those physical gifts, I was like, ‘I know this kid is going to be something.’ Then we put on pads and he was doing everything he needed to do.
Q: How is he best utilized as a tight end? I know you split him out wide sometimes. How do you get the most out of his skillset because he seems so versatile?
Williams: We put him in all different situations so we can create mismatches. We want to put him in a situation where we can get a mismatch and stretch out other defenses.
Q: It seems like Jelani is such a red zone target for you guys. He’s caught so many touchdowns with what seems like ease so far this season. What makes him such a dynamic playmaker down there?
Williams: His catch radius. Down there in that red, he’s a problem because he’s such a mismatch. A lot of times, we run the ball so well that they forget about him. He’s athletic and big enough to rebound the ball by himself on a jump ball. He just does so much.
Q: It seems when he posts on social media, every other post or so, it has something to do with Spider-Man. Do you have any idea where that love of Spider-Man came from?
Williams: I picked up on it when (I saw) his Spider-Man suit while he was playing seven-on-seven. It came out of the blue to me. But he loves it and we’re embracing it. That’s kind of what he does. That’s his thing.
Q: Moving to Ohio State, from what you’ve gathered from him, why do you think he ended up choosing the Buckeyes?
Williams: He wanted to play for one of the best teams in the country. He wanted to go somewhere where he knows he’s going to get an opportunity to go to the next level. Coach Wilson did a great job with him. It’s not too many times your position coach is also the offensive coordinator going through the recruiting process. He learned a lot of different things and I think that they came in and separated themselves from everybody.
Q: From your perspective, what is he going to end up bringing to the Buckeyes at the next level? What is Ohio State getting in Jelani?
Williams: They’re getting a very unique player. He’s 6-6. He’s long with a giant wingspan, and he can do so much. Of course, he’ll get up there and put weight on him, and he’ll be able to help play long in the run game. He’ll be a mismatch problem against linebackers. Not many kids can do what he can do at that size. He’s 6-6, 230 right now with so much room to grow, even in his route running.
Q: A lot of kids prefer to stay closer to home in their recruitment, but that didn’t seem to be an issue for Jelani. What does his decision say about his will to win and desire to be great?
Williams: It says a lot about who he is as a person. Of course, mom and dad are Georgia alumni, so Georgia was the first place everybody thought of. Alabama and Auburn are also right here. But he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to go back north.’ He has family in Michigan, and his mom is from Michigan. It was really a no-brainer for him.
Q: Off the field, what kind of person is Jelani and what would you say his leadership style is? Is he the lead by example guy or is he more vocal?
Williams: First off, if you see him off the field, and he does not have a smile on his face, something’s wrong. He’s always laughing, he’ll always give you the Forest Gump wave with big hands and a ‘Hey coach’ because that’s kind of who he is. One of his biggest attributes is his personality. His leadership style is a leader that takes charge. He’ll be a guy that’s like, ‘Alright, coach, we need to get it together. Enough is enough. Let’s lock in and focus and let’s go.’ That’s who he is.