BY John Connolly
They should nickname Stonehill College sophomore Corey Thomas "Superman" because of the aplomb in which the nationally ranked high jumper-hurdler flies through the air and over barriers.
Heading into today's New England Indoor Track and Field Championships at Boston University's Track and Tennis Center, Thomas is ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division 2 for the high jump with a season-best leap of 7-13⁄4 from the recent BU Valentine Invitational.
Thomas' 55-meter hurdles time of 7.48 seconds ranks No. 4 in Division 2.
This season, the 19-year-old Thomas has been a double-winner in 4-of-5 meets, including a perfect 5-for-5 in high jump competitions.
Following today's meet, Thomas will prepare for the NCAA Div. 2 Championships in Albuquerque, N.M. on March 11-12.
"He's the real deal," said Stonehill coach Karen Boen, now in her 11th season. "He looks like a puppy with big floppy feet, but each year, physically, he's developing more and more into looking like a high jumper and hurdler. He's always had a lot of self-confidence and he loves to compete. If you show him good competition he'll rise to the occasion. He has the potential this season to jump 7-foot-3."
It was a fortuitous bit of luck that brought Thomas, a 6-foot Brookline native, and Stonehill together. While at BC High, Thomas took a day trip for prospective college students to the Stonehill campus.
"He's not a bright-lights type of kid. He's comfortable in a neighborhood setting," Boen said. "Everybody was talking to him about what he could do in the high jump but nobody was talking to him about what his major course of study could be or what about campus life. It's all about small-town pride. It's old-school values with him."
Thomas, who is majoring in criminal justice with a minor in communications, competes in two events, so his focus has to be direct and unwavering. Getting his footsteps down for each event can also be daunting.
"I like both events equally, except when I do bad in one. Then, I like the other better," said Thomas, who credits his mother, Jean Epps, a onetime high school track star, for his leaping ability. "They both require technique in practice. It's hard."
Rich Hart is in his sixth year working with Stonehill sprinters and hurdlers and has coached college athletes for 29 years. He said Thomas has the potential to top every athlete he's coached.
"In the hurdles, last year we made some adjustments and he was very open to it. He adapted to it very quickly," Hart said. "We had some good kids when I was at Northeastern, but (Thomas) has the potential to be the fastest kid I've coached."
At his present rate, could the Olympics be in Thomas' future?
"Definitely," he said of his long-cherished goal. "Every time I'm out there I feel my goal is to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials and be on the U.S. team."