MARCH 28, 2017 - COVINGTON
From the time he first put on football pads as a third grader, Covington High School senior Seth Thomas fell in love with the sport of football. He dreamed of following in his dad's footsteps of running out on Smith Field on Friday nights and excelling as a Covington Buccaneer football player. He dreamed of winning championships with his teammates and hopefully one day moving on to play at the collegiate level.
But entering the summer for his senior season as the strongest player on the team and the strongest player Buccaneer coach Tyler Cates ever coached, Thomas feared his dreams were dashed as he tore his ACL in a non-contact conditioning drill.
"We thought it (football) was over," said Seth's father, Pat. "Ever since he started playing football in third grade, that's all he really cared about. Yeah, he wrestled and played some baseball, but football was always his passion. When he tore up his knee over the summer, it was devastating because he put so much work into it and was looking forward to his senior year."
Cates, who was entering his first season as the head coach at Covington, was crushed as well.
"I knew he was good because I coached against him when I was at South (Twin Valley South), but I had now idea how strong he was until I saw him in the weight room," Cates said. "He's the strongest kid I ever coached and he was crushing it in the weight room throughout the spring and into the summer. We (the coaches) had big plans for him on both sides of the ball and suddenly we were worried we weren't going to have him at all."
But Thomas wasn't about to let his dreams slip away due to an injury. Somehow, the senior was able to play in 11 of the 12 games for Covington.
"What he did was amazing," said Cates. "For him to play the entire season with a torn ACL, that's unbelievable. That showed unbelievable toughness."
Still, Thomas was only able to play at center on the offensive side of the ball as the coaches didn't want to risk permanent injury by playing him on defense.
"You have to assess the risk versus the reward," Cates explained. "We could have used him greatly on the defensive line, but we were afraid other teams would go after his knees - he would get cut or chop blocked and we didn't want to risk that."
But Thomas is stubborn and managed to sneak out onto the field in the season opening victory over St. Henry.
"Somebody came out of the game and they (the coaches) yelled for someone to go in, so I went in," giggled Thomas. "I was in for one play and coach (Cates) pulled me out and ripped my butt. It was worth it though."
Cates also laughs about it now, but his fears of other teams going after Thomas' knee came to fruition.
"Looking back, it was funny, but at the time I was ticked," he said. "Sure enough, they chop blocked him - high-lowed him. Fortunately he didn't get hurt, but that's Seth - he wants to play."
Despite being restricted to playing only on offense, Thomas was named the "Lineman of the Year" in the Cross County Conference, was a First-Team All-Southwest District selection and was named Second-Team All-Ohio.
And he was able to put enough on film for colleges to take notice, which led to him signing his letter on intent to play football at Muskingum University for head coach Al Logan.
"We're so proud and excited for him," said Seth's mother, Kelli. "For him to fight through his injury - and it was painful because he could hardly walk sometimes after a game - but for him to fight through that and have a great senior year - and now have an opportunity to play in college, it's amazing."
And Seth is excited about getting to play on the other side of the ball - the defensive line.
"They told me they want me as a defensive lineman," Seth said of his meeting with the Muskingum coaches. "That's cool because the only film they saw of me playing defense was from my junior year. I love defense, so I'm pumped about it."
Thomas, who is still not fully healed from his December surgery, knows he has an uphill climb to be ready for his freshman year of college.
"It's still not one-hundred-percent," Thomas said of his knee. "But it's getting stronger every day."
He's also reached out to others who have went on to the collegiate level to gain an understanding of what to expect.
"I've talked to some kids who went on to play at college and they told me how tough it gets sometimes, but I'm ready for it," he said. "Heck, my freshman year we had to go up against A.J. Ouellette, Dalton (Bordelon) and Justin (Williams) every day in practice and they would just destroy us. I think that experience helps me. A.J. (Ouellette), (Jordan) Wolfe and (Brandon) Magee are all playing football in college right now and doing well. I think I can too."
Cates is confident Thomas will be able to handle the physical and mental grind of collegiate football.
"If he can play an entire season with a torn ACL, he can handle anything," Cates said. "Coming from a small school like Covington, they'll ride him to find out if he's tough enough to handle it, but I believe he will shock some people and play fairly quickly. His toughness, determination and work ethic will carry him through."
For Thomas, who will study Criminal Justice at Muskingum, the opportunity to play is a reward for the hard work he put in since the third grade.
"I just wanted a chance," he said. "The last year has been tough, but it's also been a lot of fun too. I love football."