Former Football: Impact of Brady Thomas displayed in Vermilion Catholic's upset of Loreauville
James Bewers, The Daily Advertiser, Sept 5, 2017
There was a time when Brady Thomas didn’t have a seat at the table. He sat in a small chair against a wall and observed the words and actions of the men he wanted to become.
In fact, it was only a year ago that Thomas did more listening than instructing, taking part in staff meetings as a graduate assistant with the Ragin' Cajuns. He spent four years in that role, watching how UL coaches carried themselves and considering the details they valued. The former Cajuns quarterback learned the offenses of former coordinators Jay Johnson and Jorge Munoz, and studied the philosophies of UL head coach Mark Hudspeth.
“To be honest with you — I tell everybody — being a graduate assistant is like med schools for coaches,” Hudspeth said. “He’s leaving here with a doctorate degree.”
In that time, the 28-year-old quickly realized he didn’t just want to be an offensive coordinator, which was his initial goal. He wanted to be a head coach, and he had no intention of ever leaving college.
But after four years as a graduate assistant, he knew he couldn’t wait any longer to take the next step in his career, even if it meant coming down to high school level to do it.
Thomas may not have been fully ready for it, but a Class 1A school, Vermilion Catholic, was looking for someone to run its football program.
“I don’t know that I could say that I thought I was fully ready for the head coaching position, but it was kind of a now-or-never deal in my mind,” Thomas said. “If I need to do it, I need to do it now.
"There were some things that I’ll have to learn on the run, as there is with anything. But it’s always been my goal to be a head coach, and when the opportunity came for it, I wanted to jump on it as soon as I could. There’s no better way to learn than to actually get to do it.”
He may be learning on the fly, but Thomas has breathed life into the program since taking over in December. The Screamin’ Eagles, which went 4-6, surprised many by outlasting Loreauville, a team that received votes in the LSWA’s Class 2A preseason poll, in its season opener. VC’s 41-26 victory against the Tigers came without its stud quarterback for almost three quarters. Senior JT Lege injured his knee early in the second quarter and did not return.
Lege, who was scheduled to see a doctor Tuesday, completed 13 of 18 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns before his injury.
“He was one of the reasons I wanted to come here after watching him last year,” Thomas said. “He was a good player, but since we’ve had our scrimmage and then the jamboree, he’s gotten better from the scrimmage to the jamboree... He had his best week of practice last week when we didn’t have school because of the hurricane.
“He came out there every day and looked sharp, and to start out the game, he was on another level.”
So Thomas was forced to adjust with the backup, sophomore Andrew Marceaux, entering the game. Thomas shifted the game plan, leaning on running back Kalix Broussard early and asking Marceaux to make easy throws.
Once Marceaux got comfortable, Thomas showcased his ability as a runner. The majority of the big plays Marceaux made came when he escaped the pocket while being pressured. The VC offensive line struggled to protect Marceaux against a larger Loreauville defensive line.
Marceaux’s 13-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter zapped the momentum the Tigers were building after cutting the score to 27-26.
“His passing statistics won’t show it,” Thomas said, “but that kid was the difference in the ball game for us offensively.”
The win may have been the upset of the weekend in the Acadiana area, but it wasn’t surprise to Thomas, though he said no coach would ever admit to being surprised by a win.
When Thomas replaced the retired Ossie Blaize at VC, he didn’t consider it to a “rebuilding job.” He knew what he had in Lege and Broussard, and he understood the winning tradition that had been established under former VC coach Russell Kuhns.
So his expectation was to turn the program around immediately and make the Screamin’ Eagles a challenger in District 7-1A, which no longer has state finalist Ascension Episcopal. Even a run to the state title game wasn’t out of the question for Thomas in his first year, he said.
“I feel like it’s an achievable goal,” Thomas said. “As long as we stick to our core values and focus on what we preach on daily basis, that is a realistic goal.”
But Thomas knew a culture needed to be established at VC, so he borrowed from Hudspeth’s philosophy of having core values for the team. He also instituted something Hudspeth calls “champion teams,” which places players into groups. As a way of instituting accountability, every player in a champion team is responsible for the actions of his teammates, both good and bad.
Thomas witnessed how Hudspeth changed the culture at UL, one that had previously become accustomed to mediocrity.
“The things he’s doing off the field with his players has as much to do with success as the things he’s doing on the field, probably has more to do with that success,” Hudspeth said of Thomas. “With the way he’s holding his players accountable, the way they’re training, the way they’re working out, the way they’re practicing, the way they’re dressing, to me that’s one of the things that is overshadowed that people don’t see that help you be successful.”
Thomas has also utilized lessons he learned from his father, Frank, someone who never coached or played football. Like he’s done with the coaches he’s worked under, Thomas studied his dad’s actions, and anything that came out of his mouth “was like the Bible to me,” Thomas said.
As his father taught him, Thomas doesn’t believe his assistant coaches work “for him.” They work “with him” but “for their families.”
“If you treat people the right way and conduct yourself like that, then people are going to want to do well for you,” Thomas said. “That’s what I’ve tried to instill at VC with the coaches and the players. It’s a family atmosphere. We’re here to help each other. So far it’s been working, so we’ve just got to keep preaching it and see how it goes.”
Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas. Click here for Brady's Athletic Network Profile.