Offenses around the Greater Spokane League are officially on notice. Linebacker Brandon Thomas, who said he was “winging it” last season on his prosthetic right leg, is full speed ahead for his senior year.
“I went through a football season, and I went through a whole track season, and it did perfectly fine,” Thomas said. “So now I’m way more trusting in it for this season.
“I’m so excited. It’s everything I want, to be honest, and I’m just excited to crush this next season.”
Thomas, a Central Valley junior who overcame cancer and amputation to earn all-league mentions in football and place second at state in the ambulatory 100-meter dash, is the recipient of The Spokesman-Review 2022 “Against All Odds” award.
“Football kind of turned it around for me, turned my life around for me,” Thomas said. “It made me feel more accepted, not just sports, but like, who I am and also in school, too. And that was a big part for me because I didn’t think I was gonna even be able to play football because of my prosthetic.
“Football was huge for me and the fact that I was able to perform the way I did made it so much better.”
Thomas’ story is widely known in the area due to the generous media attention he garners, but it’s worth retelling.
While training with the CV track team in early 2020, Thomas – who was a first-team All-GSL linebacker as a sophomore – felt something wasn’t right with his lower right leg. After treating it for what he thought was a sprain, tests and X-rays eventually revealed a more serious diagnosis: cancer. Specifically, osteosarcoma – a form of bone cancer.
The doctors told Brandon, and his parents Devon and Melanie, the best course of treatment would be amputation.
Surgery, months of chemo and therapy – physical and emotional – followed. Getting back on the football field was always the carrot Thomas dangled in front of himself through all of it.
Once his health was secured, he was fitted for a prosthetic to learn to walk and balance again.
“It was really tough (in the beginning). Just walking on it hurt a lot,” he said in October.
Late last summer, he acquired an athletic prosthetic with the hopes of playing in a couple of games later in the football season.
Brandon’s drive to play again sped up the process, and he played the entire season, earning honorable mention all-league honors.
Returning to the football field at all was just such an accomplishment. But watching Thomas play, a keen observer could notice there were plays he handled better than others.
“That was a big thing for me,” he said at the school on Thursday – two years and 11 days after the surgery that may have saved his life. “Coming into football last season, I had barely any time to get used to my athletic leg.”
Things will be different this fall.
“I can do cuts, I can do literally anything and be able to trust it,” he said. “But that definitely was not the case a couple of months ago.”
It’s becoming second nature to him.
“When I have like my athletic leg on, I’m making a conscious effort to put it on and to perform with it. But with my daily leg, absolutely. My lifting leg, same thing. I just feel like it’s just a part of my body. Because now I have barely any limitations.”
Thomas has reached the point in his cancer recovery that he receives six-month checkups instead of weekly then every three months.
“I’m cancer free – or supposedly cancer free right now,” he said.
Even after all his success and triumphs, there’s nervousness for doctor’s appointments and hesitancy for proclamations.
“Every time it’s a thing that makes me anxious,” Thomas admits about his checkups. “Obviously, as anyone could imagine with me going through that terrible year. It doesn’t make me reminiscent of the past. It makes me scared that I have to go through it all again. But the moment you hear, ‘Hey, you have positive scans,’ it’s back to my normal life.”
After football season, Thomas was able to use the winter to train – and finally rest allow his body to rest.
“Working out, playing video games,” he said. “Honestly, just having fun, seeing my friends. That was the main thing – just enjoying my time, since right after chemo and me with getting my prosthetic I went right into football, so I didn’t have any time to actually just sit down and enjoy my life.”
Spring brought a new opportunity. Off-campus workouts were conflicting with school and other responsibilities and the CV track team made perfect sense.
“Coach (Chuck) Bowden got me into track, to be honest,” Thomas said.
“It was right after school. He’s a really good track coach and sprinter coach, so I was like, ‘Oh, if anyone could get me faster, it was him.’ And he’s been working on me even since sophomore year.”
The CV track team has extensive experience with wheelchair and ambulatory athletes, which made a world of difference.
“It made it more comfortable,” Thomas said. “I mean, they know what they were talking about. They had these athletes before.”
Thomas is a happy kid by nature – gregarious, always with a quick and broad smile – and he knows with all the media attention he’s received the past couple of years he’s something of a role model in the area, a distinction he doesn’t take lightly.
“I do hope that I’m helping other people,” Thomas said. “Like other kids, maybe that sometimes see my articles or see me on the news, and I just want to make an impact. I feel like making an impact in this world is a huge thing for me.”
Does the media attention get to be too much?
“I enjoy being able to talk about my story,” he said. “Not just necessarily for other people, but it helps me, too. Because, I mean, I like to get a lot of things off my chest and talking to the media helps me organize my thoughts and organize my life and think about chronologically what has happened.”