WALKER – In a season full of highlight-reel material, the one play by Walker High’s Brian Thomas from the 2019 season that burned the brightest in his coach’s memory was one that didn’t even include having the ball in his hands.
The Wildcats, down by three scores in the waning moments of a rather forgettable trip to Fontainebleau, were still competing down to the end when quarterback Ethan McMasters looked for Thomas.
Amid three defenders draped around Thomas in the end zone, the ball was picked off where Thomas had been knocked to the turf. Instinctively, he rose from the ground and chased down the defender to make a jarring tackle in a game that already been long decided.
Regardless of the outcome of the game, which didn’t go in Walker’s favor in a 54-34 setback on the road, the sequence spoke volumes about Thomas’ competitiveness and unwillingness to give in.
“He could have laid there as the clock runs out,” Mahaffey said of Thomas. “He got up and put a big hit on the kid and that was a great moment for our team. Here’s a high-profile kid that’s had a great game. If anything, you could understand him being exhausted at the end, but he got up and went and made a big-time effort play. As a coach, we all appreciate that kind of an effort. It was great and probably my favorite play of him of the year.”
Thomas certainly gave his coach plenty of opportunities to applaud his play throughout the season. The 6-foot-4 junior had such an impact on the success of his team, in all three phases of the game, he was voted by the parish coaches the 2019 All-Livingston Parish Offensive MVP.
“It’s an honor,” Thomas said. “I’m thankful for everything.”
Thomas was selected to the All-Parish’s first team for the second straight year but expanded his overall game this season to include production on not just special teams, but defense as well.
“I felt like I had a good season, but I think I could have done better,” Thomas said. “There were some balls that I dropped, so I could have made more catches and just become a better route runner. I felt I still had a good season. I did better than the year before, which is always good.”
Thomas ranked among the state’s top receivers and led the parish throughout with a career-high 75 catches for 1,272 yards (17.0 yards per catch) and a staggering 17 touchdowns.
That was an improvement of 15 catches and more than 200 yards over a year ago for Thomas, who also had an additional nine receiving touchdowns.
“I think he had a very special season,” said Mahaffey, who guided Walker to an 8-4 record in his first season. “Before coming here, I was aware there was a really special receiver at Walker and I hadn’t seen him or worked with him. I felt like he took coaching and worked on becoming a better route runner. He’s pretty sharp on understanding concepts. I was surprised by his physicalness as a blocker, as a guy getting tackles defensively.”
Walker’s switch to a spread-based offense under Mahaffey was music to Thomas’ ears.
“When he first came and showed us a lot of the plays and how the receivers ran their routes in this system, I was getting pretty excited knowing that we could do big things with that offense,” he said. “I think I adapted pretty well and pretty fast. Coach Mahaffey did a good job of getting us lots of reps of the plays, just teaching us what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Thomas’ contributions, while immense on offense, translated to the Wildcats' special teams and defense where he was responsible for 1,907 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns.
He averaged 28.0 yards on 12 kickoff returns, highlighted by a pair of returns for touchdowns, and also had a 24.0-yard punt return average with another score to his credit.
Moreover, Thomas was also utilized at either safety in obvious passing situations, or at cornerback, where he piled up 29 tackles, six pass break-ups and two interceptions, one of which included a touchdown.
“It’s my teammates,” Thomas said of his eye-catching offensive numbers. “If the line doesn’t block then I’m not able to catch those passes. If no one blocks on the kickoff team, then I’m not able to run for those yards. I try to do as much as I can and play as hard as a I can. It’s always a team effort.”
Mahaffey, whose long been committed to having a solid running game, commended Thomas for his ability to block for Walker’s running game which featured seniors Keondre Brown and Demetri Wright.
“The physicality is something you don’t always see with receivers, particularly with taller guys,” Mahaffey said. “He’s got some pretty good explosion and strength. He can make us go.”
Thomas enjoyed four games with 10-plus catches, including a season-high 11 on two occasions. One of those performances came in the team’s Class 5A state playoff victory over Thibodaux (he also had 208 yards and 3 TDs) and he also registered four games with 100-plus receiving yards.
One of those efforts came in the second week of the season when Walker hosted Destrehan, the eventual state runner-up, where Thomas caught 10 passes for a season-high 268 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“That was one of my favorite games,” Thomas said. “I tried to keep my team in the game so that we could do as best we could.”
Then came the game with Fontainebleau, where Mahaffey believed Thomas’ long-lasting imprint came in his final act, but it hardly told the whole story about the show he put on during the game.
Thomas accounted for 350 all-purpose yards and scored four of his team’s five touchdowns, including two receiving TDs along with a 75-punt return and 99-yard kickoff returns for scores.
“It will push me even harder to get it again,” Thomas said of the parish MVP honor. “I want to just come out and play hard. I know I’m going to work hard, and I know my teammates are going to work hard. I want to just come out and have another great season.”