Whitworth wasn’t really on Kevin Thomas’ radar as he ended his high school career leading the Gonzaga Prep Bullpups as run-first quarterback. He wanted to travel away from home for college.
Then Thomas agreed to visit the Pine Bowl three years ago and meet the coaches and players who would become his teammates, even though the Whitworth campus is a 10 minute drive from his parents’ home.
“I just knew these were the types of the guys I wanted to spend the next four years with,” he said. “And, the coaches were the type to push me to become the best I could be, and not just in football but as a human being.”
It turns out, the former quarterback had a knack for catching the ball.
Thomas was third on the team last year with 38 catches for 473 yards and two touchdowns. Through three games, the junior is fourth on the team with 13 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
Thomas began his freshman year in 2014 slinging the ball at practice in Alan Stanfield’s up-tempo pass-first offense. He got in a few games for mop-up duty and ran the football to score his first collegiate touchdown.
But before his sophomore campaign, Stanfield approached Thomas about the switch to receiver, seeing how starting quarterback Ian Kolste would make it difficult for Thomas to find any playing time.
Thomas’ physical stature, 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, and speed also made him a prime candidate for outside receiver to replace the departed 6-5 Connor Williams.
“He knew he had some older quarterbacks ahead of him who would be around a while,” Stanfield said. “He was excited for the chance to play receiver.”
Whenever the Pirates get inside the 20 yard line, defenses must figure out a way to defend both pre-season All-American Nick Kiourkas (Shadle Park) on one side, and Thomas on the other.
“He was a physical runner at Gonzaga Prep. He just had to learn how to be physical at a different position,” Stanfield said. “He’s just now learning how to use his size more to his advantage.”
The Pirates (2-1) travel Saturday to take on George Fox (0-2). It was against the Bruins last year that Thomas’ past came roaring back.
In the first play of the second quarter, Kolste threw a lateral pass to Thomas, who then hit a wide open Michael McKeown for a 65-yard touchdown as part of the 37-14 win. The play turned out to be both players’ first throwing an receiving touchdowns.
“I liked playing quarterback, but I love the group of guys I play with. It’s just fun to compete on Saturdays,” he said. “That is one of the reasons I came to Whitworth was to have the opportunity to play. It’s been great. I’m happier than I thought I would be.”
Coach Rod Sandberg made Thomas one of his first recruits after he took over for John Tully, who will be on the other sidelines Saturday at the quarterbacks coach for George Fox.
“First of all he’s a great kid and is willing to do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Sandberg said. “But he’s such a talent. It’s a credit to him as an athlete how quickly he adjusted to a new position.”
Stanfield also noted that quarterbacks, and former quarterbacks, have a unique ability to understand coverages and which spaces to attack as a receiver.
“It’s always nice to have a guy in your receiver core who can throw,” the smiling Stanfield said.
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