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Air Force offer in hand, Michigan student athlete ready to shine

STARS AND STRIPES

By TONY GARCIA | Citizen Patriot | Published: July 18, 2018

JACKSON, Mich. (Tribune News Service) — Nick Thomas has wanted to run the ball as long as he can remember.

When he began playing football in the Michigan Center youth league, Thomas had two stripes on his helmet, signaling he was one of the bigger kids and had to play lineman.

But that wasn't as fun in his mind, so even as a youngster he began to trim down so he could become a "one-stripe" and get the chance to carry the ball.

Nearly a decade later, Thomas still wants to run the ball, but there just hasn't been the room on the star-studded Lumen Christi roster lately. Not even for Thomas, one of the school's top athletes in the class of 2019.

That is until now, in his senior season. It's Thomas' turn.

After spending his freshman season on junior varsity, Thomas was called up to varsity for the postseason, where he appeared in just a few snaps on special teams.

He then made one of the biggest leaps of any sophomore in the school the next season, earning a starting spot at strong safety - a position in Tony Panici's defense known as "Titan" - and operating as one of the signal-callers at just 15 years old for the eventual state champions.

As a junior, Thomas put on so much muscle and weight, he moved to outside linebacker in Week 3. Despite the position change, he remained the vocal leader of the defense in his new position, known for the Titans as "hero" en route to earning a spot on the second team defense of the 2017 Jackson Citizen Patriot Dream Team.

But all the while, Thomas wanted to run the ball.

However, in 2016, Bo Bell was re-writing history for the Titans, amassing 3,000 all-purpose yards and setting a new single-season record for touchdowns in his record-setting final season.

Then, in 2017, there was to be a competition between Thomas and Sebastian Toland, but after Toland's 225-yard, two-touchdown performance in the season opener against the defending state champions Grand Rapids West Catholic, the job was his.

"I love Sebastian to death, but I was so excited last year when he came in because it was competition for a while," Thomas said. "Yeah, it kind of bummed me out he became the starting running back, but he's a great athlete and I wouldn't change it.

"That's how it goes, the best man plays, and I agree with that."

When the Titans would need a change of pace back, they would then hand it to fullback Kyle Minder. For the second season in a row, Thomas was the odd man out of the running back rotation.

But that never dampened his spirits, and when called upon, he would be ready -- he showed that with a 72-yard scamper in the first half of the state championship game against Ithaca, scoring the Titans' only points of the first half before they held on for the 40-34 victory.

"It was more my teammates than me," Thomas said, deflecting praise on the biggest play of his career. "But it did give me confidence in that I know my teammates and I can make big plays when big plays are needed to be made."

Now Thomas is a senior, and the 5-foot-11, 191-pound athlete senses this is his year.

And even more than being ready for his turn, he's earned it.

"He's a great athlete, he's a real physical specimen," Lumen Christi coach Herb Brogan said. "You see that when you walk in the weight room and he's also one of those guys you have to kick out of the gym.

"Our biggest fear with him isn't, 'Is he going to train hard?' It's if he's going to overtrain, so we're on him a lot about, 'Hey, that's enough. Take it easy.' So, as far as problems go, that's a good one to have."

It's that type of mentality which makes Thomas seem like a nearly perfect fit for the first school that offered him a Division I scholarship — Air Force Academy.

Thomas says he's thought about going to a military academy for years and even mentioned Air Force when he was 14 years old.

"I was talking about going to Air Force with coach Sean Brogan all the way even back as a freshman," Thomas said. "I remember thinking then, 'Yeah, that probably won't happen, but I wish,' but when they came to the school, we talked a bit and then they offered me. That was pretty cool."

Although Thomas has received the scholarship offer from one of his "dream schools," he says he's going to wait and see what else comes along this season.

Patience is another one of Thomas' strengths. That's evident by his not jumping at the first offer as well as his drive for three years to claim the starting running back spot.

And though Thomas didn't want to assume or imply that the job would be his - fall camp has yet to begin and starting spots have yet to be earned - Brogan had no problem affirming what Thomas' role will likely be come Aug. 24 when the season kicks off.

"He's absolutely going to be a two-way player," Brogan said. "Yes, still he's the leader of the defense, but as things stand right now, he's also going to be our primary ball carrier."

Thomas has many goals for his final season: Be the starting running back for the whole season. Win another conference title. Get looks from more Division I schools so he has a handful to choose from.

But those pale in comparison to what he says is still his No. 1 goal.

"One team, one dream: that's our team's motto for this year," Thomas said. "No team here has ever won three championships in a row and we want to be the ones to do that.

"No matter how we have to do it, we're going to get it done."

©2018 Citizen Patriot, Jackson, Mich.
Visit Citizen Patriot, Jackson, Mich. at http://www.mlive.com/jackson
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