Todd Thomas: Post-Gazette Male Athlete of the Year
There were the impressive dunks that brought basketball crowds to their feet.
In football, he had great catches, long runs and a 107-yard inter-ception return in a WPIAL playoff game.
But maybe the greatest testament to Todd Thomas' splendid athletic ability came in the sport he never tried until a few months before he graduated from Beaver Falls High School.
This spring, Thomas tried track and field for the first time in his life. He admits his long jump technique was horrible. He had no idea about proper running form. Yet, he finished second in the long jump at the WPIAL Class AA championships and third in thePIAA. He also ran the anchor leg on Beaver Falls' 400-meter relay team that won a WPIAL title and finished seventh in the state. He also helped Beaver Falls win a section title in track and field.
Put the track and field accomplishments with Thomas' football and basketball ability and you have the Post-Gazette Athlete of the Year for the 2008-09 school year. This is the 30th anniversary of the award, which takes into consideration athletes in the WPIAL and City League.
The first winner of the award in 1979 was Central Catholic's Dan Marino. Some of the other winners have been Bill Fralic, LaVar Arrington, Major Harris and Terrelle Pryor. Thomas is the third Beaver Falls athlete to win the award. The others were Dwight Collins in 1980 and Lance Jeter in 2006.
Thomas had some tremendous accomplishments in football and basketball. In his senior year alone, he rushed for 865 yards, had 557 receiving and helped Beaver Falls reach the WPIAL Class AA title game for the second year in a row. He also was a standout at linebacker.
In basketball, he averaged 18.5 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.
For his career, this 6-foot-3, 195-pound bundle of athleticism had 2,063 points in basketball and 4,001 rushing and receiving yards in football. He is only the third athlete in WPIAL history to score 2,000 points in basketball and also be selected to the Post-Gazette Fabulous 22 all-star team in football. The only others were Jeannette's Terrelle Pryor and New Brighton's Gabe Jackson.
But the track and field season added to Thomas' lore. He went to great lengths in the long jump, setting a Beaver County record with a leap of 22 feet, 10 1/2 inches.
"Seriously, I had no clue what I was doing in track," Thomas said.
Beaver Falls football coach Ryan Matsook chuckled when talking about Thomas' long-jumping ability.
"I watched him jump and he wasn't even close to being polished," Matsook said. "What if he polished it all up and had worked just on track? Would he be something like Olympic caliber? Maybe that's a little far-fetched. But for a kid to put only two months into something and end up one of the best in the state ... it really is something what he did."
Thomas exhibited tremendous athletic ability at a young age, even if his skills were lacking, especially in basketball.
"My mechanics and skills weren't there when I was young," Thomas said. "I didn't know how to dribble, didn't know how to shoot very well."
But he could run and jump like few his age. He was dunking a basketball in seventh grade. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds as an eighth-grader. He also played baseball before high school.
"I was like Derek Jeter back in the day," he said.
Once in a junior-high football game, Thomas returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Beaver Falls' opponent returned the next kickoff for a touchdown, but Thomas wouldn't be outdone. He returned the ensuing kickoff for another touchdown.
"This kid scored 2,000 career points and he really couldn't dribble or shoot," said Beaver Falls basketball coach Doug Biega. "I don't mean that in a bad way, but that shows you his athletic ability. Imagine the basketball player he might have been if he spent two hours a day in the gym, learning how to dribble or shoot a jump shot."
Biega always will remember Thomas' "coming out party" three years ago. Thomas was a freshman and Beaver Falls played Schenley in the championship of the Blackhawk holiday tournament.
"Todd scored the first 10 points of the game for us and he's talking all kind of junk to DeJuan Blair and D.J. Kennedy," Biega said with a laugh. "It was pretty amazing to see a 14-year-old kid going at those Schenley kids that way."
Although Thomas never played on a team that won a WPIAL title, he won with regularity. In four years as a starter in basketball, Beaver Falls had a 91-26 record. In three years as a football starter, Beaver Falls was 28-7.
Thomas believes his biggest high school accomplishment came this season when he helped Beaver Falls win conference or section titles in football, basketball and track and field.
Now Thomas has his sights set on a college football career at the University of Pittsburgh, but his future with the Panthers is still up in the air. Although Thomas has signed with Pitt, he hasn't qualified academically to be eligible as a freshman. He is taking four summer classes in hopes of raising his grade-point average enough to be eligible as a freshman. Pitt recruited him as a receiver.
Thomas said, "Truthfully, my best position will probably be safety. But at wide receiver I can do damage, too. I just want to go to Pitt, work hard, listen to the coaches and do what I have to in order to reach my dream -- and that's playing in the NFL."
First Published June 28, 2009 12:00 am