Ten games into the football season, opponents have found one way to stop Mead free safety Evan Thomas - hope a referee blows his whistle early.
“I just go until the whistle blows and never give up on a play,” Thomas said. “Basically, I try to be as aggressive as I can without being cheap and go to the ball.”
Thomas needs that determination to make up for his size: 5-foot-9, 170 pounds.
“He’s 170 pounds, but he benches 300,” Mead coach Mike McLaughlin said. “He’s just one little muscle.
“He’s our quickest DB. We talked about moving him to cornerback because of his speed, but he’s such a great run-support safety… . We decided he’s more value to the team as a safety and has more of a chance to impact the game as a safety.”
The Panthers in general, and Thomas in particular, face one of their toughest tests of the season today when Richland (9-2) visits Albi Stadium at 1 p.m. for a second-round game in the State AAA playoffs.
The ninth-ranked Panthers (10-0) have never advanced past the second round. To accomplish that goal they’ll have to slow a team that riddled Greater Spokane League runner-up Shadle Park with a precision passing game.
“I think we’re confident, but not overconfident,” Thomas said. “We know they’re a great team; they have good players, a good passing team. If we come out and play our game it should be a good game.”
Thomas is sure to have a key role. He is second on the team in tackles and is among the leaders in interceptions and fumble recoveries. He also returns punts and kickoffs and takes an occasional turn at wide receiver.
Defense, though, is what Thomas enjoys best, even after turning a short pass reception into a long touchdown.
“I like to hit better than be hit is basically the reason,” he said. “In junior high, I played middle linebacker. I loved that. Obviously, I’m not big enough for that right now. I like having everything in front of me, that’s what I like most. You see everything happening.”
McLaughlin counts on that.
“Evan’s the quarterback of our defensive secondary. He’s a very solid player. He’s also a very quiet leader. He’s very intelligent,” he said. “There is no question he has an innate ability to cover the field and has a nose for the football.”
There was one slight problem.
“Last year he was such a fierce tackler he hurt himself,” the coach said.
Thomas had several minor concussions his first two years.
“Last year, I tended to look for the big hit a lot more than just getting the tackle,” he said “I tended to lead with my head a lot. This year, I’ve learned big hits are great, but I focus more on just getting the tackle, playing the ball more.”
Thomas didn’t reach this year’s goals without first considering the consequences.
“I asked (doctors) last year. They said (since) I’d never gotten knocked out they were all considered minor concussions,” he said. “I made it real clear I didn’t want there to be any permanent risk. I didn’t want to get an injury that would be with me the rest of my life. They said I was fine, there was no need to worry about that.”
About those goals: all revolve around the team.
“At least in terms of last year’s team, we’re a lot closer this year. There’s a definite sense of family,” Thomas said. “I honestly believe most of the guys on the team would do pretty much anything for each other. I think the main reason for the success we’re having is just that we’re so close and willing to work hard and do stuff for each other. We just fit; everyone pretty much feels like they belong.”
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