HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Thomas guides Tigers back to state title game
Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 8:36 p.m.
TRENTON — Although he claims he wasn't much of a football player during his days at Dixie County High in the 1990s, Andrew Thomas has proven he has the right stuff as the head coach of the Trenton Tigers.
Class 1A state final
Who: No. 4 Trenton (11-1) vs. No. 1 Blountstown (13-0)
When: Friday, 7:07 p.m.
Where: Citrus Bowl, Orlando
Tickets: $12 ($17 reserved); parking $10
Online broadcast: bhsnlive.com ($6.95 charge)
For the second straight season, the Tigers (11-1) will be playing for the Class 1A state title on Friday night against No. 1 Blountstown (13-0) in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. In only his third season in his first head coaching position, Thomas is 35-3, the best three-year run in 1A.
Last Friday in the 1A state semifinals, the No. 4 Tigers upset No. 2 Dixie County 17-14 before 3,500 fans jam-packed into The Jungle at Trenton. It was an emotionally charged game for Thomas, 36, whose nephew Aaron Thomas is a quarterback at Dixie.
The youngest of four brothers, Andrew's oldest brother, Mike, is Dixie County's boys basketball coach, Aaron's father and principal at Anderson Elementary School in Cross City. Kyle, the second oldest, is the only one not coaching and works the prisons at Cross City Correctional Institution while second youngest John is the football coach at Ruth Rains Middle School in Cross City.
“I was it for Trenton,” Andrew said of his immediate family support at last week's game. “I think my mom might have had my side a little bit, she was torn. Everyone else was wearing Dixie County stuff. They were all good about it. We are not bad about ragging each other.
“I've always aspired to be a coach. My dad is a Trenton alum and he held the state basketball scoring record for a single game at 68. He was an all-state basketball player here back in 1957-58. He inspired all of us. You would always find us watching a football game, or watching a basketball game. We were very heavy into sports growing up.”
Andrew spent nine years as an assistant coach at Dixie, working under longtime head coach Brent Wilkerson, who he beat five days ago. During his time there, he also was the boys basketball coach for four years, leading the Bears to a pair of district titles and regional playoff berths.
“I couldn't continue to be the boys basketball coach and coach football because they ran into each other,” Thomas said. “I'm the type of person that when I do something, I want to be the best at it. It was hard on me to do basketball, so much pressure for football. I have four kids, it was too much. I took over the softball role, there is not as much pressure. I'm an X's and O's guy, I love watching and studying things.”
He left Dixie for one season at Chiefland where he joined Jim O'Neal's staff. O'Neal, the last coach to win a state title in the area with the Indians in 1997, was coming back. Chiefland went 0-10 that season.
“We were so young, we had eight freshmen on defense one game,” Thomas recalls.
When Chris Baker left Trenton after a 7-3 season in 2010 to take over at Newberry, Thomas applied and got his first head coaching job at Trenton. And all the Tigers have done since is win.
Trenton actually lost its first regular-season game in three seasons this year in an 18-7 setback at Dixie County in September. But the Tigers got their revenge this past Friday.
In Thomas' first season, Trenton fell in the regional finals at Monticello Jefferson County (56-19). Jefferson County went on to win the state title.
Last year, after another unbeaten regular season, the Tigers beat Jefferson County, Lafayette and won a thriller at Newberry (36-35 in OT), coached by Chris Baker, in the state playoffs to advance to the school's first state final.
But turnovers and sloppy play resulted in a 42-21 loss to Bratt Northview to finish as state runner-up.
With that loss, Thomas challenged his team to strict weight training during the offseason. Quarterback Stephen Smith, who wasn't 100 percent in last year's state title football game, went on to pitch the Tigers to a state title in baseball.
“We've had the mindset of unfinished business, of getting back,” Thomas said. “We don't want to just get to the game but win it.
“When we stepped off the field last Friday night, our celebration wasn't the same. We just beat our archrival, of course we were excited, but it wasn't the same. It was like, 'OK, let's get it done the next week.' Yesterday was the best offensive practice all year. We are where we need to be. The kids don't want that same feeling. We are not leaving until Friday, last year we spend the night before.”
Athletic director Salley Martin said Andrew Thomas genuinely cares about everyone on the team and not just on the football field.
“Coaching is not just a job to him, he cares for what happens to each of the boys,” she said. “They many not be big in size, but he has had them work hard in the weight room. He cares about the boys as people and wants to bring the best out of them. He wants them to leave Trenton High School with respect for both their community and themselves.”
Players said when Thomas arrived, practices became much more physical and intense.
“We had a lot more hitting, a lot of toughness in practices,” Smith said. “We did a lot of hard work in the summer in the weight room. All the coaches worked hard and every player is well coached.”
“We got a saying, THD — toughness, hard work and discipline,” said Jacquez Powell. “That is kind of our motto, what we live by daily. He really helped us a lot in not only becoming better football players, but better in the classroom as students as well.”
With the state title out there once again, Thomas has spent many late nights poring over film and schemes getting ready for the big game against No. 1 Blountstown, a team that has posted eight shutouts in 13 games.
“I sent some flowers to my wife at work today,” Thomas said. “I left here about 11 o'clock Sunday night, still not having everything done to prepare. It's a grind. But it's worth it all at the end to see the kids get the success they had.
“They are a good defense, no doubt, and you see things that were used to attack them. And what we do they haven't seen yet. Until you really see it, especially our veer game, it will catch you off guard initially. We played Dixie and all the talk was Dixie, Dixie, Dixie. On an athlete and physical standpoint, no one in 1A is better than those guys. We have overcome that giant, and our kids aren't scared of anyone.”