Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Troy Thomas returns to Crespi Football

by John Siegel
High School Football America Correspondent
Follow @JVNSiegel

Clad in a Crespi baseball jersey, a flat-billed Crespi baseball hat, and Volcom board shorts new Crespi Carmelite head coach Troy Thomas approaches the wall next to his small, cluttered desk, and begins to draw.

“We just got this painted,” he says, as if meaning to explain why a man with a mohawk is drawing on the wall at his place of work.

Thomas is clearly excited about his job. In 2004, he was where he is now: head coach at Crespi, his alma mater. Professionally, he knew he needed a change. He took the same position with Anaheim powerhouse Servite High School

“It was hard emotionally, because I love Crespi, but I knew that I needed to,” said Thomas, as he erases the play he had been drawing on the wall, revealing the new paint to be a some kind of dry-erase board. “I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but I know now that it was a great thing for me as a coach. I had to get out and go do it somewhere where they didn't know me. I was coming from Division Ten, and the coaches, parents and players [at Servite] were like 'this is Division 1, this is the Pac 5...what do you know?' 

He knew a lot. In his eight seasons at Servite, Thomas revitalized the football program. He won the Trinity league seven times, won two CIF championships, a state championship, and was even state runner-up. 

“I felt like every year I had to prove myself,” said Thomas. “I still do, and as a coach, that’s a good thing.”
Meanwhile, his alma mater was struggling. An 8-0 start to the 2012 season under head coach Jon Mack was derailed by heartbreaking back-to-back losses to league rivals Notre Dame and Bishop Amat--by a total of nine points--sinking them to the bottom of the Serra League, ensuring the team would not make the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. 

Following the season, Mack resigned as head coach; an action that had the fingerprints of a new administration all over it. The administration approached Thomas about a second go-around. “When the opportunity came to maybe work here again, I jumped on it,” said Thomas.

Troy Thomas is relaxed as I talk with him. He leans back in his chair and talks glowingly of his time former Crespi teammate, the great Russell White: “He was the best running back I've ever seen. I don't ever remember seeing him getting hit solid.”

When I visited Thomas, he seemed nonchalant – probably because he’s just returned from a family vacation on Catalina Island. However, if you do a Google Image search of him, you may get a different impression. Those images would show an intimidating figure, stalking the sidelines of Cerritos Junior College--where Servite plays their home games--clad in a plain white dress shirt and a black tie; head shaven and a scowl on his face. 
When Thomas left Crespi in 2004 following a section title, part of the reason was the administration, with whom he had grown “uncomfortable.”

That won’t be a problem with new president Father Tom Batsis. The opera lover described himself as in an LA Times profile as "...about as non-jock a jock as you're going to find.”  Upon finding out Mack would resign, Batsis immediately interviewed Thomas, and hired him a day later.

“I just sat through two days of new teacher orientation,” said Thomas. “I got emotional, just as an alum, because I was so proud with the direction that we're going in, and what we're going to try to do with these young men.

Thomas inherits a team that has gained a nasty reputation for having underperformed, the opposite of Crespi football. The list of players accepting FBS scholarships over the recent years is long; the playoff victories almost nonexistent.

It’s not a culture change at Crespi; ask any alumnus, and they’ll tell you about a smash-mouth style of play they remember as being something ingrained in the team. But over the past few years, that swagger and physicality expected on the field has waned.  

“I think that the alumni have prided themselves on overachieving--playing at a higher level than they could individually--but as a team, they rose to a higher level. That's something that I think is very Crespi,” Thomas said.

Thomas has inherited a lot of talent. Some players might have been scared of by Thomas’ intense demeanor, but the core of the team wasn’t. Thomas believes it’s about more than football. It’s about taking responsibility for every aspect of life, something he praised about junior Marvell Tell, who will only be a junior but already has scholarship offers from “almost everybody.”

“The biggest thing is just caring about their teammates and playing for something other than themselves. That was really prevalent when I first got here. It was all about me me me, and I'm trying to get them to see that it's a 'we' thing. They need to hold their brothers accountable, and look to help them, rather than think about what this is doing for them. They need to think about what this is doing for all of us and how they can help push this thing along together,” said Thomas.

The Celts are young. Despite having graduated ten players who will play college football, it’s most talented returning players won’t be seniors for at least a year. Juniors Tell, a defensive back, and D.J. Beavers, a linebacker, are joined by sophomore T.J. Brock, another defensive back, whom Thomas declared as “the fastest freshman in California.” In June, junior quarterback Wes Massett announced his plans to transfer to Crespi, from Westlake High School,where Thomas was a defensive coordinator under Jim Benkert for a year before taking the head coaching position at Crespi in 2001.

Back in the San Fernando Valley, Thomas is still getting used to the heat. But this is home, and he couldn’t be happier. “Crespi will always be a part of me,” said Thomas. “I felt that I could give something back to the school that gave so much to me.”

St. Bonaventure QB Ricky Town gives verbal to Alabama

by Jeff Fisher
Follow @HSFBamerica

St. Bonaventure quarterback Ricky Town has yet to play a game as a junior, but the 6-4, 190-pound knows where he'll be playing three years from now.  Monday, Town gave his verbal commitment to the University of Alabama.

Town chose the Tide over offers from Georgia, Stanford and Texas.

Last season, Town completed 162-of-243 passes for 2,086 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions. 
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