Charles Pierre Thomas Jr. (born December 18, 1984) is an American football running back for the New Orleans Saints in the National Football League. Thomas led the Saints in total rushing yards in 2008 and 2009.
Pierre Thomas’s first love was baseball and it was not until a year before high school that he picked up football. Thomas played for the Lansing Lions as a youth. Thomas lead Thornton Fractional South High School to the state semifinals as a senior and set school career rushing records of 88 touchdowns and 5,522 yards that also ranked in the top 10 in Illinois state history. Some of his self-taught practice for high school football included running up a steep hill with a backpack full of books on and pushing cars around. He was recruited by the University of Illinois. Pierre’s biggest inspiration is his mother and his cousin. His hero is Barry Sanders, former running back for theDetroit Lions.
As a true freshman, Pierre earned his first start following a 49 – 14 loss to the Michigan Wolverines in which he scored the Illini’s only two touchdowns. Pierre was a little banged up after going to battle against a tough Wolverine defense; however, after he learned he would be starting the following week against Minnesota at home, Pierre kept his “war wounds” to himself. Pierre made his first collegiate start against Minnesota on October 25, 2003. He did not play much in the second half because of the leg that was banged up one week prior. On Monday after the Minnesota game, the burning sensation in his calf muscle continued and he needed to see a doctor. Turns out, Pierre had to go into immediate surgery to have part of his left calf muscle removed. The doctor said that he never seen anything like it before. The muscle removed supports the ankle when making a cut on the football field. Following a full recovery, Pierre would have to wear a “boot” for the next three years of his career, thus, changing his running style forever. Running with a 2 pound boot slowed him down and took from his agility, turning Pierre into a more downhill slasher and adding to his already forward fall. Pierre concluded his collegiate career at University of Illinois ranked sixth in the school’s history with 2,545 rushing yards; he set a school record with 1,494 kickoff return yards with a 99 yard kick return against Western Michigan on September 18, 2004. He is second in school history with 4,451 all purpose yards. However, Pierre’s most impressive stat might be his average yards per carry of 5.6 over his career.
Going undrafted in 2007 was not how Thomas had envisioned his entry into the NFL. Regardless, he knew that hard work and determination would be the key to his success. Thomas was competing with a fourth round draft pick for the final spot on the roster in an already heavy backfield which included Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush and Aaron Stecker. After showing star potential in the preseason, Pierre became one of only two rookie free agents to make opening day roster. Quickly becoming a fan favorite as a kick returner, Pierre was anxious to get his shot at running back. And he would, making his first career start on December 30, in his home town of Chicago against the Bears – one of the most feared and respected defenses in the league. On a cold and windy night, with temperatures below freezing, Pierre would run for arguably one of the best performances of his career in front of his family and friends. He had 20 carries for 105 yards and caught 12 passes for 121 yards with an 11 yard touchdown, becoming the first player in New Orleans Saints history to gain more than 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game. Pierre’s 226 total yards from scrimmage inked him into the record books as third-highest total in team history. Through this gutsy performance with two cracked ribs, Thomas earned himself more carries for the following season.
In 2008, Thomas led the Saints in rushing with 625 yards on 129 carries – averaging 4.8 yards per carry and nine touchdowns. He also finished seventh with 31 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns and led the team with 31 kickoff returns for 793 yards. Thomas led the team in scoring with 72 points. To some, the 2008 season was a disappointing one. The team battled injuries, the life of a football warrior. Pierre however, viewed the season as a great learning experience.
Thomas started six games, playing in fourteen, leading the team with a career-best 793 yards on 147 rushing attempts – averaging 5.4 yard per carry with six touchdowns and also caught 39 passes for 302 yards with two touchdowns. The Saints jumped out to an impressive 13-0 start before losing the final three games of regular season. Locking in a bye for the first round of playoffs proved highly beneficial as the team was “dinged up” from a hard fought regular season. Thomas had bruised/cracked ribs. In the NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings, Thomas carried the ball 14 times for 61 yards along with two catches for 38 yards and two touchdowns – a 38 yard reception on a screen pass and a nine yard run from scrimmage. He was a key factor in the game-winning field goal drive in overtime. Thomas set up the drive with a 40 yard kickoff return followed by converting on a key fourth-and-one with a “Walter Paytonesque” leap over the top for 2 yards. The Saints played and defeated the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami. Thomas carried the ball nine times for 30 yards and caught six passes for 55 yards with a 16 yard touchdown on a screen pass in the third quarter to give the Saints their first ever Super Bowl touchdown and their first lead en route to a Super Bowl XLIV Championship.
Thomas started in one game, playing in three gaining 146 yards on 46 rushing attempts – averaging 3.2 yards per carry with a long of twelve. He earned one touchdown and also caught 17 passes for 133 yards with an average of 7.8 and a long of 23, and no touchdowns. The reigning Super Bowl-winning Saints started the season 4-3 with a Halloween Night match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He injured his ankle in game three against the Atlanta Falcons.