Blaine’s Chris Thomas: He’s quick and smooth like a cat

Posted: November 12, 2010 in 2010 Football Season
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From SportsPrepZone.com

by Troy Misko

Chris Thomas did it again last weekend.

The Blaine senior somehow found a way to get his name in the scoring summary for the Bengals during the 40-14 win 7AAAAA championship game win over Andover Nov. 5.

Thomas’ performance was unremarkable in only one respect. It wasn’t the first time he scored a touchdown this year. In fact, his fourth-quarter score against Andover was his fourth touchdown this season.

Only dual-threat quarterback Eric Kline (24 rushing and 10 passing touchdowns) and running back Ben Pigorsch (14 rushing touchdowns) had scored more this season.

And while his scoring romp was noteworthy because it began 94 yards away, even that only hinted at what made it so special.

Thomas, you see, doesn’t play offense. Instead, he’s the center of Blaine ‘s defense, both literally and figuratively. He’s an inside linebacker.

And he’s a big playmaker.

His 94-yard interception return for a touchdown against Andover broke one school record and tied another. It eclipsed the Blaine record for longest interception return — classmate and fellow linebacker Alex Becker set the previous mark of 93 yards only a few weeks earlier in a win over Armstrong — and it matched Tobi Saporu’s record for defensive touchdowns in a season.

Ask Thomas to explain what happened on the play and you’ll get little more than a shoulder shrug and a matter-of-fact answer.

“It was just a read thing,” he said. “I was just doing my job. I just kind of dropped into the zone defense that we play and got the pick. I had some good blocks ahead of me. I didn’t do it all by myself.”

There’s no bravado when Thomas speaks.

There’s nary an inflection in his tone when he recounts the highlight. That’s apparently a by-product of making the spectacular seem practically routine.

Prior to Nov. 5, Thomas also had scored on one other interception return — a 37-yarder against Coon Rapids on Oct. 1 — and two fumble returns: a 43-yarder on Oct. 15 against Andover and a 61-yarder against Forest Lake on Oct. 30.

“He has had four defensive touchdowns, which is pretty impressive,” said Shannon Gerrety, Blaine ‘s head coach. “We have a lot offensive players that don’t have as many as he has. He has four on defense.

“He also has had (six) fumble causes. He has caused a few other fumbles that haven’t been called fumbles. He just has a knack for that when he tackles. He consciously strips the football. He’s really strong.

“He doesn’t look as strong as he is, but he’s very, very strong and I think he just has a way of getting the ball out. He just always does. It’s pretty impressive. He’s really something.”

Thomas has become a defensive playmaker.

It’s not just touchdowns with him. Or the forced fumbles. Or the fumble recoveries (he has three). Or the interceptions (five). Going into the first-round state tournament game this week, Thomas was also the team’s leading tackler with 110 total — 69 solo and 41 on which he had assisted.

“He’s one of those kids who just gets things done,” Gerrety stated. “He’s the guy you love to have on your team because when you need a big play, he always seems to come up with that.

“That’s kind of tough to say, when you say ‘always’ but it seems like whenever we need something done, he’s the guy [who] gets it done.”

Thomas, a self-described “undersized linebacker” at 5-foot-11 and 182 pounds, can’t tell you exactly how he gets it done so consistently. But it’s not like it’s some kind of secret for him. Rather, he’s just not sure how to explain his success.

To him, he’s not doing anything any differently than a lot of players.

Only the results are different.

“I don’t really know how I do it,” he said. “I try to go after the ball as much as possible because that’s what we preach in practice — creating as many turnovers as possible.

“At the same time, I don’t want to miss tackles while I’m trying to make strips or things like that. I just secure the runner first and then do what I can to get the ball out of there.”

Thomas did just that in the third quarter against Andover in the section final. With the Huskies’ offense backed up to its own end zone moments after its defense intercepted a long pass at its 1-yard line, Thomas stepped up and made another big play.

When Andover attempted to distance itself from the goal line with a running play up the middle, Thomas met the ball carrier at the 3-yard line, wrapped him up and began driving him back end zone, all the while working to free the ball from the runner’s hands. Thomas and the runner both wound up on the ground in the end zone.

The ball fell just outside the end zone, where Blaine recovered it to set up a Kline’s fourth touchdown run of the game. This put the Bengals comfortably ahead, 26-7.

Thomas didn’t expect to become the defensive standout he is today. He entered the program as a running back. It wasn’t until last year, just before the season began, that Blaine ‘s coaching staff switched him to his current position.

“He could be a pretty good running back, but we didn’t feel like we had the speed and the playmakers on defense last year at the beginning of the season,” Gerrety said.

“We could see that he’s unbelievably athletic. The kid is as good an all-around athlete as I’ve seen. He has such unbelievable closing speed. He can jump like nobody’s business. He’s quicker than quick.

“I nicknamed him ‘Cat’ two years ago because he’s like a cat: he’s quick as a cat, he jumps like a cat, he moves like a cat, he’s smooth, he’s fast, he’s quick. He’s really a special, special player.

“So in the second week of pre-fall, we grabbed him and made a decision to move him to defense, at inside linebacker. That was a position he hadn’t played for us before, but immediately our defense turned around because he’s just so fast and he makes plays. He had an immediate impact on our defense. It was incredible.”

Thomas was Blaine ‘s second-leading tackler (39 solo tackles, 37 assists) as a junior. He also provided a preview of what he’s doing in his senior season by forcing three fumbles, recovering a fumble and intercepting two passes.

The Bengals have had no concerns about having a playmaker on defense since.

“It’s a very good fit,” Thomas says of playing inside linebacker. “It’s a fun position to play.

“Running back is my natural position, but I just do what I can to help the team win. If that’s playing linebacker, then I have no problem with it. Whatever I can do to help the team, I’ll do it.”

Thomas has been doing plenty to help the Bengals this season. He has become the team’s defensive counterpart to Kline, who rightfully grabs the spotlight for all that he does for Blaine ‘s offense.

“I guess with the kind of the role I play now I’m kind of the playmaker on the defense — the Eric Kline of the defense, as they call me,” Thomas said.

“I’m a defensive leader. My teammates look to me to pick them up and to make plays. I try as much as I can to pick them up.”

Thomas’ efforts show, too — often in the scoring summaries.

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