Thomas proves he belongs

  • By Scott M. Johnson and Mike Cane / Herald Writers
  • Saturday, July 1, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

EVERETT – When the invitations were extended for Saturday’s 3A/4A East-West all-star football game, Kentwood’s Don Thomas thought there might have been a mistake.

Despite a standout football career, the undersized defensive lineman didn’t see himself as one of the top players in the state, and the Western Washington University-bound Thomas didn’t think he’d measure up with all the future Division I athletes who would be at Everett Memorial Stadium.

“Actually, he didn’t even see himself as a college athlete,” said Rex Norris, who coached Thomas at Kentwood and was in the stands for Saturday’s game. “He’s very humble. I had to convince him that: ‘No, you are.’ “

After Saturday’s performance, Thomas proved that he can play with the big boys.

Despite going up against a pair of massive offensive linemen who are going to play in the Pac-10 next season, Thomas turned in one of the more impressive defensive performances of Saturday’s game.

“I got respect from the other team, because they all shook my hand – especially the tackles,” said the 6-foot-1 Thomas, who had two sacks and forced a pair of fumbles in the West’s 17-0 win Saturday. “That was the thing I wanted to do. If you prove yourself to your peers, that’s all that matters.”

For part of last week, it looked like Thomas might not even get a chance to prove himself.

He hurt his big toe in one of Tuesday’s practices and was limited over the following three days. But come game time, he was ready.

“I knew I was going to play,” Thomas said. “When you go to an all-star game, you’re playing if you’re hurt or whatever. You’ve got a month to recover.”

Next up is WWU, where Thomas isn’t so much concerned with his football career as he is with his future. He’s still deciding whether he wants to be a pre-med major or go into teaching, so he’s treating football more like a hobby.

“I’m using football for education purposes,” he said. “I’m not looking to go pro. It would be great if I could go pro, but I won’t be a broken-hearted person if I don’t.”

Big hitter: For a guy who had just two tackles, and no offensive statistics, Kent-Meridian’s Richard Henry made quite an impact in Saturday’s game.

Henry was involved in two of the game’s biggest hits.

The 160-pound cornerback/running back stood up Lakes runner Craig Garner with a head-to-head collision in the third quarter, then added a blind-side block to free quarterback Jake Locker on a five-yard scramble a few minutes later.

“I’m not big on hitting, but when I want to hit, I want to bring everything I’ve got and lay it all on the line,” he said. “I’m not the biggest guy, so a lot of running backs tend to come at me and try to run me over. I like to show them I’ve got a little bark in me.”

And bite.

He was particularly satisfied with the tackle on Garner, a 165-pound runner who had been talking trash all week.

“I knew he was going to try to run me over because he’d been talking about it all week,” Henry said. “I was like, I’m not going to be the one to get embarrassed out here in front of all these people.”

Tricks and treats: Both teams opened the second half with a little trickery.

The East team pulled off a perfect onside kick at the start of the third quarter, with kicker Zach Evans recovering his own squib.

When the West finally got the ball, it did a lateral pass that resulted in a 60-yard touchdown from receiver Aaron Boehme to tight end Kevin Kooyman. But that play was called back because of a penalty.

Dual role: One of the few stars for the East was White River’s Justin Gran.

Listed as a receiver/defensive back, Gran actually started the game at quarterback and was the East’s most effective passer. He was 5 of 9 for 104 yards, and added another 66 yards of offense as a scrambler and while lining up at receiver.

The Central Washington-bound athlete said he came into the week expecting to play only receiver and defensive back because that’s where he’ll play in college, but he was pleasantly surprised when told he’d see time at quarterback.

“I didn’t mind,” said Gran, who played quarterback at Pasco. “I like touching the ball a lot. I got to play a little receiver, too, so I got the best of both worlds.”

Locker loved it: Friends and strangers surrounded the West’s Jake Locker on the field after the game. Undoubtedly the most well-known star among dozens of super-talented athletes, the 6-foot-3 quarterback/defensive back politely posed for photos with teammates, opponents, friends, family and strangers-turned-fans.

One woman approached Locker and asked if he would sign a ball for her two sons. No problem, he said. “You are No. 11. You were fast,” the woman said matter-of-factly.

“Are you gonna go pro?” added the woman, who apparently didn’t realize that Locker of Ferndale High is headed to Washington as one of the country’s most prized QB recruits.

He laughed, then said, “I’m gonna go to college first.”

Locker threw a TD pass, rushed for 39 yards and was named the offensive MVP on Saturday. The East defense limited his passing opportunities, but Locker broke free for a few key runs and gained at least 3 yards on all six of his rushes. “The coaches told me if I could run for something, just do it,” he said. “So I took what they gave me and got some first downs.”

Numbers and honors aside, Locker reflected on how much fun he had this week: “There were so many things that I’m gonna take away from it. I mean, I’m gonna remember them all. … It was definitely the experience of a lifetime.”

Better late than never: Neko Doy was in street clothes when the game began, sidelined by a sore ankle he suffered this week in practice. But the West running back/defensive back made an unexpected appearance in the second half and had one carry for 3 yards. The Emerald Ridge alum’s contribution surprised even his own West coaches.

“I think once the opening kick happened and the pads started popping, I think (his) adrenaline started going,” West assistant coach Joel Vincent said. “I don’t know if he met with the trainer and got cleared to go or if he just decided on his own … but he ran back up (to the locker room) and got dressed.”

“Next thing I knew,” said Vincent, “I was surprised as anyone to see him sitting on the sidelines. ‘Coach, I’m ready.’”

Quick slants: The West’s victory was its third in four years. The East won 34-14 in Spokane Valley last year, but the West prevailed 14-0 in 2004 and 42-6 in ‘03. Both of the latter victories were also in Everett. … J.P. Oliver of the West and Ivan Merino of the East received the Tony Whitefield and Lynn Rosenbach Memorial Awards of Excellence, respectively, in a ceremony after the end of the third quarter. According to the game program, the awards recognize dedication, attitude, sportsmanship and athletic ability. … Although the West won the game, it lost the time-of-possession battle in a big way. Even though the East didn’t score, it had the ball 31 minutes, 11 seconds – compared to 16:49 for the West. The East’s 16-play fourth-quarter drive ate up 7:14 of the final 7:47. … The scheduled game officials were Jim Carter, Tom Rosenbach, Murray Gordon, Jeff Shireman and Steve Landro (first half); and Dean Corcoran, Mike Shumway, Jerry Koster, Steven Jensen and Pat Sievers (second half).

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