For Notre Dame 2025 commit Justin Thurman, speed comes easy. But it isn’t everything

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TAMPA, Fla. — Justin Thurman walked into the soaring lobby of Tampa Jesuit last Thursday morning, on break between classes in physics and honors Spanish. If not for how the Notre Dame running back commitment was dressed, it would be easy to mistake him for just another student at the all-boys prep school in the shadow of Raymond James Stadium.

The dress code at Jesuit is strict, collared shirts, no jeans, no sneakers, etc. Thurman complies. Fitting in matters. But so does standing out, given away by his green Notre Dame zip-up over a standard-issue blue polo. That outer layer made obvious what everyone around Jesuit already knows.

Justin Thurman is going places.

That doesn’t mean he’ll take the shortest route to get there. Maybe that’s the point.

Thurman transferred into Jesuit before his sophomore year, growing up around St. Louis and attending De Smet as a freshman, where he was teammates with Irish cornerback Christian Gray. Thurman was already a Division I prospect when he arrived here, offered early by Kansas for potential more than production. That promise only carried so much weight at Jesuit, coming off a state championship and returning a senior running back who’d sign with Temple.

Whatever athletic reputation Thurman built for himself in the Midwest — he worked with Kyren Williams’ trainer and played against Jeremiyah Love — it all reset in Florida. Yes, Jesuit knew it was getting a potential star back before Thurman arrived. He’d scouted the school during his freshman year at De Smet, knowing his father James might be in line for a work transfer to Florida. It’s just that Jesuit didn’t need to pin anything on Thurman. It had plenty of talent in house.

Thurman played a complementary role that fall as a sophomore. The senior running back headed to Temple — Joquez Smith — averaged 100 yards per game. Thurman averaged about 15.

If De Smet in St. Louis felt like a typical high school, Tampa Jesuit felt more like a college. The entire experience meant leveling up for Thurman, in football, in class, in training, in everything.

“It was a little rocky at first, but it got smoother as time went on. I told myself not to worry about all the noise and stick with it, keep working,” Thurman said. “It was a hard transition. I’m not going to lie about that. But I think it’s benefitted me in terms of life skills.”

Thurman came out the other side quickly, starring at recruiting combines last winter and adding 20 offers last spring. When Notre Dame showed interest, Thurman put the Irish on his summer camp itinerary. By the time Notre Dame offered weeks later, Thurman had already planned the visit to South Bend.

It took two looks and dozens of conversations with head coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Deland McCullough to move Thurman from an interested prospect to a verbal commitment. He chose the Irish last August, one year after his first preseason at Jesuit when Thurman was a backup running back still trying to fit in.

“You never know when you’re going to have to transition through things,” Thurman said. “There were ups and downs with the transition. I think it’s going to help me in the long run.”

Sure, Justin Thurman may be a speed back. He may have the potential to flirt with a 4.3. But if the past two years taught him anything, it’s that speed isn’t everything. Because when a running back can marry pace with patience, that’s when he can become something special.



Justin Thurman is a top 25 running back in the Class of 2025, per the 247Sports Composite. (Courtesy of the Thurman family)

LaMark Brown knew what was happening, even if Thurman couldn’t see it for himself.

As Thurman’s trainer at Trench Academy in Tampa for the past two years, Brown used to be a version of the Jesuit back himself. When he arrived at Kansas State under Bill Snyder nearly 20 years ago, Brown was a freshman wide receiver who wanted to do everything full speed because that’s how elite athletes were supposed to move. Wildcats offensive coordinator James Franklin helped him learn the value of slowing down and why it mattered to play in gears other than fifth.

Now Brown, who works with Thurman twice a week in-season and usually three times a week in the offseason, tries to deliver those sermons after a decade-long pro career that spanned the NFL, CFL and Arena leagues. When Brown watched Thurman put up 15 carries for just 34 yards in last season’s opening week win against Wharton, it was clear the back needed to hear a new homily.

“We’re similar, we have to learn how to be patient, how to not press as much,” Brown said. “You want to make plays happen so bad. And when you haven’t had a big play, you rush. And then you make mistakes.”

Thurman finished his junior season with 169 carries for 812 yards and 14 touchdowns, plus 22 catches for 198 yards and another three scores. He played on virtually every special teams unit, in part because he wanted to be a good teammate, in part because Jesuit head coach Matt Thompson wanted fake punts and kicks in the playbook. Thurman was on the business end of those.

It’s not like Thurman had a disappointing season, running behind an offensive line that got hit by injuries probably led Thurman to press even more. There’s a reason why Thurman is a four-star prospect on 247Sports and Rivals. And a reason why Notre Dame took him as an early commitment. The fact he averaged less than five yards per carry last season doesn’t have anything to do with it.

“I know Justin understands this, he’s not there yet. But he’s got all the tools,” Thompson said. “He gets frustrated with himself sometimes when he doesn’t hit the big play. I’ve had some great running backs come through, a couple NFL guys, it was the same for all of them when they were young, especially when they’ve got speed. What worked before, bouncing everything outside, doesn’t work at our level.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Notre Dame adds 4-star RB to 2025 class

Jesuit changed offensive coordinators this offseason, in part to refocus the run game with more power. That shift should get Thurman running inside more. And that should let him stress test his work during the past year, showing he can run in second gear depending on the play call, hitting fifth only when it makes sense to go full speed.

“It’s so easy to say, ‘Get the kid faster’ when our game of football is honestly about acceleration and deceleration, plus change of direction,” Brown said. “If I can teach you the right time and right direction, you should be fast enough to make things happen. It’s just about trying to be the fastest kid on the field.

“Don’t just be a 4.3 guy. Be the guy who understands how to use his 4.3.”

Thurman is nothing if not self-aware, a teenager whose soul feels twice his age. When the family first entertained the idea of relocating from St. Louis to Florida about seven years ago, the elementary-aged Thurman created a PowerPoint presentation for his parents about the pros and cons of moving. Thurman plans to major in finance at Notre Dame with a minor in real estate. As a hobby, he scrolls Zillow. He was inducted into the National Honor Society last week. He’s also a triple black belt in taekwondo. He runs track on the side, too.

This all might make Thurman feel like a prospect in a hurry to get to Notre Dame, like he’s trying to hit a big play to South Bend as soon as possible. But that’s not entirely accurate. Thurman won’t do early enrollment because of Jesuit’s academic calendar. He says he’s fine with that. His college enrollment 15 months from now can wait. He can be patient.


Thurman got his first look at Notre Dame last summer, a June camp stop when he worked with McCullough. Thurman liked McCullough’s style and resume, an uber-confident coach who’d won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. He liked the approach for running backs, too, giving a job to anybody who could earn one, whether that meant 15 carries per game or helping on special teams.

“I think it’s a great and effective way because nobody is taking all the hits, so you’re not getting hurt,” Thurman said. “Then it lets everyone utilize their skill sets to better themselves and better the team. Everybody has a different skill set and he uses that to the team’s advantage.”

Freeman pitched in. Recruiting director Chad Bowden and assistant Dre Brown did, too. It didn’t take long before Thurman realized Notre Dame was where he wanted to go. He just needed to make sure his sister agreed with the decision.

Sydney Thurman graduated from Kentucky last winter after working with the women’s basketball team in Lexington as a manager. She’s now working on her graduate degree to become a physician’s assistant. Sydney wanted to see if she could pick out the same reasons Justin liked Notre Dame over offers closer to home. Tennessee, Auburn and Florida had offered, too.

Big sister liked what she saw.

“As a college student, she knows what’s important,” said father James Thurman, who played football at Florida A&M. “From there it was more, ‘I understand what you’re seeing.’”

That gave the younger Thurman the green light to commit, making his decision public on Aug. 1. He’s since attended four home games and a junior day in January. He plans to be back for the Blue-Gold Game and maybe a spring practice visit, too. He’s connected with most of Notre Dame’s recruiting class. He’s also done some recruiting, notably four-star cornerback Dallas Golden from Tampa and four-star offensive lineman Jack Lange from near St. Louis. Thurman and Lange were youth football teammates together on the Eureka Wildcats. Their fathers were the coaches.

“Notre Dame is a perfect fit for a lineman. It’s a lineman school,” Thurman said. “It’d be cool to run behind him again.”

Like that green zip-up Thurman wore to school last week, life as a Notre Dame commitment has been an easy fit. He already has his major and minor picked out. He considers Gray and Love his friends. Freeman has stayed in touch. And Thurman sees Notre Dame as more than a value add for his football career.

“The academics are first for me,” Thurman said. “I believe the Notre Dame diploma can put me ahead.”

All in due time. First, there’s an offseason for training, followed by a senior season at Jesuit. Thurman will get to show how much he’s learned since last fall and how he’s made patience part of his game. Notre Dame will come afterward, but Thurman has been doing his homework on it. He knows where to be and when to be there around the program. He also knows what to do whenever he scores his first collegiate touchdown.

Hand the ball to an official.

“I’ve known one player who didn’t do it on purpose, but he was a freshman, scored a touchdown, heat of the moment, kind of threw the ball to the ref,” Thurman said. “That’s not how they do things at Notre Dame. It just goes to show the accountability of things, even with something that little. The little things matter.

“Coach Freeman doesn’t play around with that. I’ve been doing that as long as I can remember and I’m gonna continue to do that. Got to now.”

That shouldn’t be a problem. Thurman is into the details, whether that’s PowerPoint presentations, blocking schemes or school uniforms. He might not be a finished product, but Thurman is on track to become one, a St. Louis transplant in Tampa with South Bend on deck. What comes next will get here eventually. But Justin Thurman doesn’t need to rush it.

(Top photo: Pete Sampson / The Athletic)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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