Thomson finds happy place with GHS football
Published: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:44 p.m.
Who hasn't thought it?
You take inventory of your life. You're not happy where you are. You wonder how you got here.
And you think of happier times.
For some, it's a cold Christmas morning with a fire blazing and a present under the tree that looks like it just might be that baseball bat you asked Santa to bring.
For others, oh my, it's that sophomore year in college when you let your sideburns grow and the girls thought it was something.
Maybe it's the time you first saw the spark of love in the eyes of your spouse. Or the first time you tasted baby back ribs. Or your first HD television.
You think back to that happier time, and it makes you smile.
James Thomson thought back.
He was a quarterback for a team that few people cared about in a league that fewer remember, the National Indoor Football League. He was working several jobs, trying to make ends meet.
That's when he knew what he wanted to do.
Because he thought about the happiest time in his life.
“When I was the most happy in my life, it was when I was in high school,” said the Gainesville High head football coach. “I was playing for this team in Kissimmee, trying to hold onto the dream. I realized playing was not the way to do it. I knew then I wanted to be a high school coach.”
Thomson caught a break when his high school coach hired him at Orlando Dr. Phillips. He had been a standout quarterback at the school. What guy who was a quarterback in high school does not look back with fond memories?
And here he is seven years later, about to guide his team into the state championship game in his hometown of Orlando.
It doesn't get much better.
“I love where I'm from,” he said. “It's special for me.”
Thomson worked his way up the ranks to get to GHS. He was the head coach at Cornerstone in Orlando when Gainesville needed a replacement for Ryan Smith, who left to coach at DeLand.
It wasn't like he inherited a mess. Smith had turned the program around. In 2007, the team was 1-8. In his second year, the Hurricanes won 10 games.
A once-proud program had gone from irrelevant to a state contender. Make no mistake about it, Thomson walked into a good situation.
“It was a good team. I just had to keep building it,” he said. “I saw a bunch of kids who were hungry. There's something special about the Gainesville kids.”
He saw it a year ago when the 'Canes won 12 games. But when he really saw it was in this preseason, when he took his young men down to Orlando to play his alma mater.
To some, it would have appeared to be one play in one game that didn't even count.
Thomson saw something else.
“It was the last play of the half,” he said. “Fourth down. We called a play, and it was covered. And (quarterback) Mark Cato scrambled into the end zone. That's when I knew there was something special about this team.”
It has lasted throughout a special season. GHS on Saturday will try to finish off perfection against Miami Central. The 'Canes offense will have to be on, but it's been on all season. Thomson's team has scored 40 or more points 10 times, including 62 last week in the state semifinal at Navarre.
But Saturday is different.
Saturday is for a state championship.
“This team, they're so focused,” he said. “It's just crazy. They're so mature.”
That's why he didn't worry about taking the team to Orlando on Thursday. Back to Orlando. Back to where the season started. Back to the place where his best memories were spawned.
Back, to make a new one.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.
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