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Thomas Is The Ultimate Team Player
9-20-17 by Jordan R. King
Hard work is a staple of Evan Thomas' personality.

Stillwater coaches said Thomas, a senior wide receiver, spent the offseason working on his physical skills and learning how to become a leader.

As part of his development, Thomas said he learned personal glory is not always going to help the success of the team. He said it is an intangible he offers.

"We have a lot of plays where my job is to just clear someone out over the top because I think I'm a little more of a faster guy," Thomas said. "Clearing out those guys so some other guys can get some catches is what I bring to the table."

Coach Tucker Barnard said the first game was a good example of that mentality.

Offensive coordinator Chad Cawood said Thomas had a few short catches, but nothing big.
Barnard said someone couldn't tell by the way Thomas' effort whether he is going to get the ball or the play is meant for someone else.

Barnard said it is because Thomas and the other receivers have learned the team philosophy.

"They have a better idea of how it's all fitting together," Barnard said.

Cawood said he thinks Thomas has the mentality his staff has tried to get the receivers to improve on.

"He can say, 'All right, these are my balls this week because this is what the defense is doing,' or, 'All right, I know I still gotta run my route the same way because I know I'm not getting this, it's his ball, but I know what I'm supposed to do here,'" Cawood said.

Thomas is one of the more recognizable players during games. He has shoulder length dark brown hair that can be seen coming out from the back of his white helmet and above his No. 13 jersey.

Thomas said he takes what he calls precautionary measures to keep it out of his face though it sometimes gets caught in his helmet. Friday night, that meant a white bandana to corral it.

He said he got some inspiration from the music world.

"Lately I've become a big '80s rock band fan and that's how those guys wore it,"
Thomas said.

Thomas is part of a Stillwater offense that has 463 yards passing through its first three games. The Pioneers have had struggles establishing a passing game during the past few years.

Fellow senior wide receiver Garrett Leming said he, Thomas and the rest of the receivers wanted to change; Leming said it is the most confident he has been in the offense in his career.

"It's the most comfortable that we've been because we've been successful," Leming said.
"It gives us a dual threat; running and throwing the football."

Leming said he thinks he is a leader by example. He said the goal is to give the Pioneers big plays when they need a spark.

Thomas said he is always looking to help the underclassmen receivers. Like Leming, he said he is not a vocal leader.

"Most of the time, I try to let my play do the talking," Thomas said.

Sophomore quarterback Gunnar Gundy said though Thomas usually doesn't say much, if a teammate needs Thomas to back him up, Thomas is always there.

Gundy said the work ethic Thomas brings to practice is something he has picked up on. He said Thomas never complains about the coaches or the plays being called.

"He's always making sure he does everything he can to help the team," Gundy said. "[It's] the same with Garrett."

Thomas, Gundy and Leming said they have a special relationship on the field.

They played neighborhood football together. Thomas said he has known Leming since he was born because his parents are friends with Leming's.

Gundy said when he thinks back to when they played football as kids, he appreciates they always let him play. He said it is something he has never forgotten.

"They've always been good to me when I was little," Gundy said. "They never pushed me out of the game; they never picked me last. They always picked me, let me play and let me be comfortable around them.
"That's a big thing now; I can trust them."

Gundy said he has thrown passes to Thomas since he can remember. He said he thinks his completion number to Thomas has hit four digits.

"Oh gosh, I don't know; a lot," Gundy said. "Probably over 1,000. Ever since I was 5, since I could throw we've always been running routes."

Thomas laughed when he thought about how much he has played with Leming and Gundy. He said it is hard to put a number on how many times he caught a pass one of the two threw.

"Is a million too far?" Thomas said.
"That's where it all started. Clearly it's not the same thing now that it was then, but it's just as fun."

Cawood said they brought that fun mentality to the team, which he said is evident by the way each celebrates the success the other has.

In week one, Thomas celebrated Leming's two-touchdown performance. Cawood said it
they play well when they play simply.

"Just go play catch," Cawood said. "Go out there and run routes. Go out there and have fun."
Barnard said he can tell the way Thomas goes about his work has had an impact on the Pioneers' second game, in which Thomas scored both of Stillwater's touchdowns.
Thomas got behind the Moore secondary twice. In the first quarter, he caught a 65-yard touchdown pass and in the second, he caught a 28-yarder. They were the only passes Thomas caught in the game.

Barnard said he talked with the defensive coordinator from Moore after the game on Sept. 8, and Moore's coach said the staff planned for Leming.
"That's something that gives us a chance to be really competitive," Barnard said. "We have those guys who can do it from both sides of the field."

In three games, Thomas has caught 12 passes, which is tied with Leming for the most on the team, for 176 yards; he leads the team with three touchdowns. Last season, he had six catches for 25 yards on no scores.
Thomas said it has been fun improving with Leming, and he said Gundy continues to mature and gain experience.

"He kinda grew up a little bit," Thomas said. "He's not the same little kid I used to know, but we all have a good relationship."

Thomas' work ethic does not end when he is done playing football.

He said he has had success in school. He said he has his parents to thank for that.

"For my parents, school was the most important thing," Thomas said. "They always stayed on me, so they told me school comes before sports.
"I grew up like that. At this point I probably couldn't even break it if I tried to."
Thomas' mother, Kathy Thomas, said she made him focus on school to set him up for success after he is done playing football.

"That's what's going to take you forward in life so that's what we stress most," Kathy Thomas said. "That's what most important, and also important for building an athletic career, too."
Kathy Thomas said she has enjoyed watching Thomas have success with guys he has grown up with; she said his success is dependent on the success of the team.
Thomas said he is undecided about what he wants to study after he graduates, but he has given it some thought.

"I like stuff with architecture and chiropractic, but I don't know if my mom really wants me to do that," Thomas said. "I don't know, I'm still kinda undecided."
Kathy Thomas said she will be happy with whatever path Thomas decides to take and said she thinks he is excited about exploring programs in college.

"Whatever he wants to do is great," Kathy Thomas said. "Of course, I'm in the legal field, so if he was interested in law that'd be fantastic, too."
Kathy Thomas said his work ethic he shows on the field was built off. She said it is important to develop a good work ethic in everything he does.

"Homework, chores, family, service to the community; all of those things come into play," Kathy Thomas said. "We've tried to make sure he's doing something all of the time to make sure that he's got that work ethic continuing in all aspects of his life."