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Ravens look for improvement with Thomas at the helm
Bryant Thomas understands the thin line that divides winning from losing.
As Auburn Riverside's new head football coach, Thomas takes over a team that went 1-9 last year and finished in the basement of the tough South Puget Sound League North 4A.
"The funny thing about football is that you get a ball that bounces one way and you get a ball that bounces the other way and the season is totally different," said Thomas, who took over the program in March. "We watched the film from last year, when they went 1-9. They're not a 1-9 team. Kentlake finished third last year, and they (Auburn Riverside) had them on the ropes but lost 14-10. They lost to TJ in overtime. All these games, they were in them. They just missed something here and there."
Now, as the Ravens prepare to begin their 2013-14 campaign, Thomas hopes to provide that "missing something."
"I want to win with these kids because I believe in these kids," Thomas said. "Everything you need to win is right here. You have support, and you have quality players coming back at critical positions."
Thomas' football journey began at Los Angeles' San Pedro High School. For four years he was a standout on the inner-city high's football squad, as a wide receiver and defensive back.
After graduating in 1993, Thomas headed north, with a full ride to Washington state University in hand.
For three years Thomas started as a wide receiver for Cougar Coach Mike Price, and finished up his career playing defensive back and special teams as a senior.
After graduating with a history degree in 1998, Thomas stayed in Pullman as a student assistant coach, and after a year moved into a graduate assistant coaching spot with WSU.
"I've always been lucky and blessed," Thomas said. "Everything seems to fall into place for me."
After three years coaching in Pullman, Thomas moved on to Idaho State University in Pocatello, where he was an assistant coach for the next six years.
In 2007, urged on by his wife, Shannon Short, who grew up in the South Puget Sound region, Thomas applied for an assistant position with Federal Way Coach John Meagher.
"Coach Meagher had been diagnosed with cancer and they didn't know how long he was going to coach for," Thomas said. "So I came down and interviewed with him, and he offered me the job (as an offensive coordinator)."
Although Thomas intended to use the Federal Way job to work his way into a high school head coaching position, he said, he still wasn't sure. A trip back to Idaho, however, sealed the deal.
"Thanksgiving break I interview for the Federal Way job, I say thank you, land back in Pocatello on Monday, and I'm getting ready to go down to LA to go recruiting and we get fired," Thomas said. "When I tell you I've been blessed, I've been blessed."
For the next six seasons — five of them as the Eagles' offensive coordinator and one as the team's defensive coordinator — Thomas helped mold the team into a perennial powerhouse.
"When Coach Beasley, one of my mentors, retired, Coach Meagher asked me what I wanted to do: did I want to stay on offense, or move to defense, because he knew I wanted to be a head coach. So I moved to defense because I wanted to understand what it means to be in charge of the defense. I wanted that under my belt."
Then, in February, Thomas heard about the opening at Auburn Riverside.
"Once I started talking to the people in the building I knew that they cared about the kids," he said. "I knew they put the kids first and that made me want to be here. The dilemma for me was more can I win here? The only time they've been in the playoffs was as a 3A team. But once I got into it and started digging I realized I could win here. But I knew I had to build a program right."
After taking over, Thomas said he was concerned he would have to start from scratch with the program. But after getting to know his players, he admits, he was pleasantly surprised to find a solid foundation already in place.
"I'll tell you one thing about the old staff," he said. "When we came in here, you could see these kids had leadership qualities and abilities. We've utilized those, and I know they were bred into them from the previous coaching staff."
With the groundwork secure, Thomas said he and his coaching staff have turned to concentrating on fine-tuning, installing a new offensive system – the pistol option – and getting the kids to believe in themselves.
"I felt like when I came to the program they didn't finish what they started," Thomas said. "And I want that to be a way of life. From finishing homework and chores, all of those things. When you start something, you finish it. That's important, because when we get on the field and I ask to finish that play, they already do that because it's something that is in all aspects of their life. It's easy to carry onto the field."
So far, Thomas said, he's pleased with the results.
"They're buying in," Thomas said. "I can't tell you where we're going to finish this year. I don't have a crystal ball. But I know one thing: at the end of the year people are going to be proud of what this Raven team is about and the direction in which we're going."
"Winning is important, but if we win games and don't make better young men, winning doesn't matter," Thomas said. "You have to be in this to help develop these boys into young men. Young men that our community can be proud of. When they come out to watch the Ravens play, I want the community to be proud because we handle ourselves like gentleman with class and respect for the game."
The Ravens open their season at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 against Mt. Rainier at Highline Memorial Stadium.