Thomas journey ends up in Mustang backfield
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA
Da’shawn Thomas took the route less travelled to get to the Western Mustangs.
The Mustangs don’t really care how he got here. If he lives up to his billing, they’re just thrilled he somehow found his way.
“I’m a bit of a journeyman,” the almost 22-year-old running back said with a laugh. “It was back doors and alleys all the way up here.”
Here are some of Thomas’s vital stats. He’s 5-foot-11, 204 pounds. He runs the 100 metres in 10.3 seconds and played for the Georgia Generals, a semi-pro team in Atlanta, where he gained 1,300 yards.
That’s just one of the “alleys” he used to get to Western.
He was born in Arkansas, but lived in Georgia most of his life.
Thomas never went to university, not because he wasn’t smart enough but because timing and circumstances prevented him from writing his SATs.
Instead, he opted to go to a junior college in Kansas. That lasted but a few days.
“I got real homesick,” he said while taking a break from working a football camp for kids at TD Waterhouse Stadium, where the Mustangs open camp Sunday.
“In Kansas, I got there at two o’clock in the morning. I got out of the car at the school and across the street there was this place where they baked manure. I got out of the car, smelled it and said ‘Oh my God, this is not a good way to welcome someone to your town.’ I didn’t like it from the start.”
He went home to play for the Generals, where he was spotted by a Toronto Argonauts scout. The Argos signed him to the practice roster, where he spent last year. Thomas played both exhibition games this year but was released.
Former Mustangs receiver Tyler Scott and former Argonauts coach Rich Stubler called Mustang coach Greg Marshall and recommended Thomas, who enrolled at King’s College.
“He’s there as a mature student but he had good high school marks, 83 per cent,” Marshall said. “He can play. But he’s a nice kid. He’s been here about two weeks and the kids really like him and they are the first to let me know if there are any red flags raised.”
Thomas has personality plus and the time he’s spent working his way to Western has taught him a lot of lesson, on and off the field.
“Being on the practice roster last year, I learned a lot, played a lot, seen a lot,” he said. “There were three coaching staffs, three different systems. It was good. I went to camp, with another new coaching staff and it just didn’t work out.
“It’s not just football. I decided to come to Western because the experience in the CFL and all the changes, it just let me know that football wasn’t forever and at some point I have to fall back on something.”
School is that fall-back point.
“Having a chance to play football always got me through school always got me up to go to class,” Thomas said. “If I was going to do the school thing, maybe I should do it now. I’m still young, still can get back to the CFL if I want to. But right now, I want to go ahead and get a degree, get a piece of paper.”
Thomas is one of a family of nine that includes seven brothers.
“The boys got a room and the girls got a room,” he said, laughing. “There were a lot more boys than girls.”
Thomas has confidence in his skill.
“I like to test your testicular fortitude to see if you’ve got it,” Thomas said. “If you’re going to get in my way, I’m going to go through you. If you’re going to give me a lane, I’m going to go past you. You could put nine, 10 men in the box. But as soon as you do that, I’m going to kill you deep. Whatever the game calls for, wherever I’m needed.”
Thomas’ addition gives Western running back depth with the return of another speedster, Nathan Riva.
“One thing we didn’t have was a vertical push,” Marshall said. “Now we have some options.”
Thomas decided to go home after Halloween last year but returned after Christmas because he had work to do with charitable organizations in the Greater Toronto Area.
“I got my first little taste of winter. It didn’t work for me,” he said. “It was tough. I came back after Christmas and I’m driving down the road and I’m saying ‘what’s all that salt on the side of the road? Nah, that’s snow. You trying to say there’s that much snow.’ I never heard of a winter coat. I had a little fleece on, a hoodie. I thought it was good enough. Everything I had on, didn’t work.”
Thomas hopes he’ll have to play in the cold. That means the Mustangs have gone a long way in the Canadian university playoffs.