EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first our "Impact Player" series, taking a closer look at some of the state's top returning players as we draw closer to the MIAA football season.
Johnathan Thomas firmly established himself as the state's most complete player after a dynamic 2012 season, in which he helped lead the Eagles to their first MIAA Division 1 Super Bowl title in 15 years. This fall, the first year of a true state championship, the Eagles have high expectations to take home hardware once again. Much of that will fall unto Thomas, who will shoulder a bigger load, which includes defense as well.
Player: Johnathan Thomas
School: St. John's Prep
Hometown: Salem, Mass.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-0, 210 pounds
Scouts Inc. Rank: 1 - Mass.; 46 - Region; 43 - Position
Key 2012 Stat: Getting just over 18 carries a game, Thomas averaged 8.15 yards per carry.
Workout Stat: Timed 4.47 in the 40-yard dash last January at the Under Armour All-American Underclassmen Combine, in Florida.
Opposing Coaches: "He wears defenses down. We had a pretty good defense last year, and he was the one running back that wore us down in the fourth quarter of the game. At the end of the game, he's running as hard as he was at the beginning of the game, and you really had to tackle him to bring down. I was really impressed with how durable he was, even for four quarters. ... I love his balance, he's got great balance. In our game, there was a play where everyone stopped on defense because we thought he was down, but he kept his knee off the ground and came out of the pile with three guys on him and ran off a 30-yard touchdown. He has great balance. ... I love the way he carries himself on the field. He's not out there acting like it's all about him. Classy player, he’s a great kid. There’s no reason why he won’t succeed at Maryland, he’s legit."
Scouts Inc.: "Possesses a compact body structure and well-built frame that is very thick and durable. Has a wide hip base and good lower-body power that allows him to absorb a hit and retain his balance. Game is built on strength and breaking first contact as he's not the fastest or most fluid running back prospect. ... A productive, inside runner who wastes very little time squaring up and getting north behind his pads. There is a sense of urgency to hit the seam downhill as opposed to bounce outside. Quickly generates strong momentum. Runs low with good lean and a lower center of gravity. Quick and strong enough to get through tight in-line seams. Sees and can hit the cutback but not a back with the lateral agility, short-space burst and vision to pick and slide his way through traffic. ... Initiates contact and run through a filling linebacker than around him. Can create his own path when the original hole is cloudy. Lowers his shoulders and powers through arm tackles. Possesses great lower-body strength, center of gravity and balance to absorb a heavy blow and retain his feet and forward momentum. Pulls through leg tackles and keeps his legs driving on contact which allows him to spin and bounce out of wrapups. Very determined to finish runs and is a second-effort back who will wear on a defense with carries and then pop one out of the pile for a big gainer a few times a game. ... Overall, Thomas is a strong, downhill runner with multi-carry, load-back potential. Ideal for a traditional Pro-Style offense that gets its backs downhill on power running plays and looks to stay balanced offensively. Needs to improve his base as a blocker and play with better leverage, but has the ability to be solid in this facet. Hands are above average but route running is not refined. Athleticism to get recruited on defense. Potential safety in a hybrid type role."
Bottom Line: The only junior to be named a finalist for ESPN Boston's prestigious "Mr. Football" award last fall, you have to go back to the days of L.V. Whitworth or Derrick Knight to find the last time the Catholic Conference produced such a dynamic threat out of the backfield. Simply put, Thomas is the total package, a rare talent only seen in Massachusetts once every couple of years. Last year, he split carries with the state's Mr. Football and Gatorade Player of the Year, Alex Moore. This year, he'll be the feature back, and will likely see time at linebacker as well. Expect Thomas to be one of several heavy favorites for the "Mr. Football" award, as the state's best player.