When the Paschal Panthers played Weatherford in a barnburner football game in October, Dylan Thomas was everywhere.
Playing quarterback and receiver, Thomas accounted for 370 yards of offense and six touchdowns to lead the Panthers to a 52-45 overtime win, including the game-winning 30-yard touchdown reception. However, his best play of the game, at least in Paschal head coach Matt Cook’s eyes, came on defense.
“We stuck him on the defensive end for that game as a corner to guard their best player,” Cook says.
That player was wide receiver Chase Warren, who led Weatherford in receiving yards (611) and touchdown catches (seven) in 2014. With the Roos threatening in the red zone, quarterback Bryce Burks tossed a quick screen to Warren, who turned upfield and looked like he was heading for a touchdown.
Thomas shed a block and wrapped Warren up at the 5-yard line. He didn’t bring him down though. Instead, Thomas stripped the ball from Warren’s hands, recovered the fumble and started running the other way, ending the Weatherford scoring threat in an instant.
Those plays are what Cook relies on his best athlete to do. He simply lets Thomas go out and be the best player on the field, putting him at a slew of different positions to try and utilize his talents as much as possible. During his time on the varsity squad at Paschal, Thomas has played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety, cornerback and returner.
“It’s really easy to coach him just because he’s so dynamic athletically,” Cook says.
Thomas played every snap of that game, offense and defense, though he had only taken reps at quarterback in practice that week.
“When we needed it most,” the coach says, “even without all the technique, without the everyday practice on the defensive end, he was able to grit out every single snap. Not complaining.”
Beyond his physical abilities, that determination, fighting through the game without a complaint, is what stands out to Cook. The coach says Thomas’ demeanor and personality are what make him a special player.
“Sometimes when you get a real athletic kid like him, you struggle with the character issues. And he’s not one that we struggle with at all,” Cook says. “Since day one, since we met him, he’s been a ‘yes sir,’ ‘no sir’ guy. A team player. He’ll do whatever he has to do to help the team win.”
That attitude is something that comes from Dylan’s father, Tory Thomas.
“He wants to win. So it means that if he has to go do (something), he’s going to do it to the best of his ability,” Dylan’s father says. “That’s one of the things I’ve always instilled in him.”
Dylan, one of nine siblings, has had a football in his hands since he was a toddler. His father views sports not just as a way for his kids to have fun, but also as a way to stay out of trouble. He says his motto is, “Sports, not courts.”
The junior certainly doesn’t seem to have time to get into trouble. In addition to football, Dylan starts at point guard for the Paschal boys basketball team and runs track for the Panthers as well.
“It keeps me busy, keeps me grinding and getting better,” Dylan says.
The junior committed to play wide receiver at TCU in December to the delight of his father, who says he had been praying for that since Dylan was a freshman. Being close enough to go see his son’s games is a dream come true for the elder Thomas.
His son is excited about it too, saying that getting to be close to his family was a big part of the decision.
“I’m right down the street, literally 13 minutes away from my house,” he says of TCU. “So it’s really easy to get back and forth, and I’ll get to see my family all the time. It’s just home.”
Coach Cook played for the Horned Frogs under Pat Sullivan in the mid-’90s. So it means a lot to him that his star player will be playing college football on the same field where he played.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound athlete has speed and acceleration that help him hit gaps in the defense and explode for huge gains. Even when the pocket collapses, he’s often able to elude the pressure and get to the second level of the defense. Cook says Thomas has “huge upside” as a receiver in the Frogs’ new spread attack because of that athleticism.
“I think the offense TCU runs now is going to lend itself to him extremely well. He’d be great on the short stuff because he has the breakaway speed, and he’s also got the ability to post up, because of his basketball (experience),” Cook says. “He’ll be able to post up and have a big body and be a possession receiver.”
The decision wasn’t easy for Dylan to make though. He’s played quarterback since he was 4 years old. It’s been hard to give up the dream of playing that position at the next level.
“I’ve always liked TCU,” he says. “And really (the) one thing that didn’t make me commit right away to TCU when I first got the offer my sophomore year was the fact that they wanted me to play receiver. And I don’t know, I was doing a lot of thinking about it. I was kind of just waiting for someone to offer me as a quarterback.”
It was a frustrating experience for Dylan, his father says. He had grown up idolizing John Elway, Randall Cunningham and Steve Young. He asked for miniature versions of their helmets every year for Christmas. He dreamed of playing quarterback.
Even for the guy who only cares about winning and will do whatever is best for the team, giving that up was hard. His father had to tell him that colleges were going to view him differently, that this move might be what was best for his playing career.
Dylan eventually accepted that, and he acknowledges that he has a more instinctive feel for the receiver position.
“It seems like I know things that I really wasn’t taught as a receiver,” he says. “It seems a little more natural to me, a little easier. It just kind of comes to me.”
But his father also told him to keep believing he could play quarterback.
“That’s one thing I’ve always told him. Don’t ever give up on your dream,” he says.
The dreams Tory Thomas has for his son started a long time ago. That forced fumble against Weatherford was nice, but to this day, his favorite play of his son’s athletic career is still one that came before his fifth birthday.
Thomas was just 4 years old playing in a youth league flag football game. The coach wouldn’t let him carry the ball because he was too young. Dylan’s father couldn’t accept that decision.
“I begged and pleaded with the guy,” he says. “And he said, ‘I’m going to give him a chance. And if he fumbles my ball, he won’t run my ball again.’”
Dylan’s father agreed. So, backed up against his own goal line, the coach called for a handoff to Dylan.
And Dylan took it to the house. Juking out defenders and showing off his speed, Dylan took the ball almost the entire 80-yard length of the peewee field for a touchdown on his first carry.
“He went from one end zone to the other,” the proud father recalls with a laugh. “And dude, I ran all the way with him.”