ORLANDO, Fla. -- A state championship is best served with a side of redemption for five-star linebacker Matthew Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington).
Having fallen to The Bolles School just a year ago in the same game, it was Thomas and his Tornadoes teammates that came out on top 35-7. And it was Thomas that finally got to walk across the stage with a medal on his neck.
"It feels so good," he said. "Last year, I was supposed to [win it]. We were here, but we let it slip. But I am a senior and it feels great to win a state championship."
In the last two weeks, Florida State and Georgia were the only teams to come by for in-home visits. Both schools made their recruiting pitches, while Thomas' mother spent time getting to know the coaches.
"We talked about me coming in early and being able to play early and help the team," he said. "They were talking to my mom and getting a better relationship with the staff. I like Florida State a lot, and I like Georgia a lot, so we'll see what happens."
Florida State's former defensive coordinator Mark Stoops' departure to Kentucky to take over the head coaching job was among the topics of discussion. For Thomas, though, it didn't have a real big impact.
He believes that no matter who is in place, he can be in a position to succeed.
"I talk to FSU about that a lot," he said. "There isn't any concern about that, somebody else can come in and do the job just as well as [Mark] Stoops. We'll go from there."
Thomas declined to declare any leaders or top groups. He says that will come later after he likely takes visits to Alabama, Florida State, Georgia and Miami.
"I don't have any favorites," he said. "I like each team equally. I think a favorite will come after I take my visits."
Georgia assistant coach Scott Lakatos made such a good impression on Thomas (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington) that the five-star prospect plans to take an official visit there.
“I had a in-home official with coach Lakatos this week,” Thomas said. “I’m going to take an official there but I haven’t set up the date yet. ... I’ve got a lot of family in Georgia and my mother likes the staff so I’m going to check it out.”
The Seminoles and Bulldogs are part of a top group that includes Miami and Alabama. He has also heard from the Miami coaching staff, who is trying to keep Thomas home despite worries about potential NCAA sanctions.
“The Miami coaches are telling me they are trying to get right for the future and move forward with the young players,” Thomas said. “They have taken two bowl bans so we’ll see what happens.”
Thomas is ranked as the No. 8 player in the Class of 2013 by ESPN and is an Under Armour All-American. He is the nation's top-ranked linebacker.