The Story Behind Joe Thomas' Commitment

Badger Nation conducted a lengthy Q&A session with Brookfield Central Coach Rick Synold Thursday morning, as he revealed the reasoning behind Joe Thomas' decision, and gave some insight into what the process was like behind the scenes.

BN: Are you relieved to have Joe Thomas' decision over with, after everything you guys have gone through?

Synold: You bet. Especially when he's staying home. I was pulling for (Wisconsin) without saying it. It came down to two great choices, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. But being from here, and just the Bucky tradition, we want to keep that going. I know the coaches down at Notre Dame, we were really impressed with them and the other coaches too. There were some phenomenal groups. Miami got on board towards the end here and Kansas at the last second, Georgia Tech and some real quality people.

BN: Last night, Joe referred to a last minute change of heart, presumably changing his decision from Notre Dame to Wisconsin. What made the difference for the Badgers?

Synold: Well I talked to him this morning and we were just chatting, and I said, `Joe what made the difference?' In general it comes down to people, and a feeling. It just has to feel right. I think definitely, the people helped him feel right.

BN: When you say people, are you referring to the UW coaching staff?

Synold: Oh yeah. Right, absolutely.

BN: He just didn't have that same feeling for Notre Dame?

Synold: Well, probably not. And he's very family oriented. And his family is very, very involved also. I'm sure that came into it too. Because just watching him and being around his family, especially when we went down to the All-American Bowl down in San Antonio, watching them. It's just kind of neat.

BN: Would you say the main negative for Wisconsin was the fact it didn't have a throws coach in track?

Synold: I don't know how much that was a negative. I think, and I've done it, when you weigh this you have to look at academics of course, their football program, their track program, etc. And I think where Wisconsin came ahead of everybody, is with that track program because they're proven. They've produced and that's what it comes down to for Joe. I think Mark Napier, being a multi-guy, he's produced quite a few quality shot-putters.

BN: So the UW track program actually edged out Notre Dame's? I think most people figured that's why Joe was leaning towards Notre Dame at the end.

Synold: It might have been, but I think when it came down to it all, and also I think how Wisconsin laid it out, a five-year plan between football and track, how it could work, I think that was important. Not saying that the other guys didn't, but just the way they did.

BN: With the five-year program, is it safe to say he is redshirting next season?

Synold: Oh I am just assuming that. I think most guys do until they get caught up. You get a year of weight program under his belt. And I think they were honest. Coach Alvarez was the first coach in the building, and that was over a year ago. I think that made a difference in how important his boys are to him. I think that impressed upon his mom, very much so.

BN: Do you definitely see him as an offensive tackle, or might he play at tight end or defensive end?

Synold: He really loves playing tackle, and that was a surprise because the first time he played it was this year for us. But he's got the ability to play tight end. He's got phenomenal hands. And he's very smart, so they've got some multiplicity there.

BN: Perhaps he doesn't even realize how much of an upside he has on the football field. Everyone that's seen him play has raved about his potential. What do you see in his future?

Synold: Well as much as he wants that, you have to knock on wood and stay healthy. But the number of coaches, and the ones who have had pro players and stuff like that have commented, `My gosh, it's a long road ahead of him if he wants.' You know, I don't know if I'm at that point to make those predictions. But the people who are closer to it can, and have. We just hope for the best. And it's a good mix. He really does love track. It's just a great release for him and he follows it very closely. So it's a great combination program.

BN: How much did the Joe Panos connection have to do with his decision? Or did Panos lay back and not push him in any direction?

Synold: No, and to Joe's credit and to ours to, we just sat back and said hey, Joe is going to meet with the parents, and he's going to tell him the experience he had at Wisconsin. He's not going to push you one way or the other. He would talk to Joe and Joe would talk to him about that, but none of us as a staff would want to say, `Go here Joe.' Because that would come back to haunt you if it didn't work out. So we didn't want to do that. But oh boy, we knew where we wanted him. That was the hard part, not saying it.

BN: It had to have been extremely tough for Joe to deal with the constant bombardment of phone calls from reporters, coaches and so forth, asking him to comment on his thoughts every night throughout the process. It seemed to me that he handled the whole thing extremely well. Would you agree?

Synold: Phenomenal. He just turned 18 Dec. 4. He's a young kid, he's very mature and wise for his age. I give him a lot of credit, because I don't think I would have had the patience. Not at that age.

BN: The way he was torn at the end there, do you feel like he might have any second thoughts down the road, or is he completely at peace with his decision?

Synold: No, I think he's extremely happy, especially last night when I talked to him on the phone, and then this morning here are school. He's very, very happy. He just had it come into place. He had the feeling a couple of weeks ago, he said, as things were working themselves out. And I told him, he couldn't have gone wrong with probably many decisions. But the way he did it, I mean, nobody can second-guess him, he doesn't have to second-guess himself, because he did the thorough process.

BN: You mentioned Miami jumped into it late in the game. Were they ever seriously in contention?

Synold: I would say he definitely listened, because who wouldn't listen to that type of program? Especially when the weather is 10 degrees and it's 80 down there. Myself, I would have taken a trip for him down there. But I think he was being courteous and listening. I'm not sure how strong it played into it. He never said.

BN: Is there anybody he reminds you of, the way he plays? Any of the great Badger linemen that he is similar to?

Synold: Well I've known Panos since he was a junior in high school, and I watched him progress, what could happen, and to me there is a connection. But Panos didn't have the skills that Joe had in high school. He didn't get that until he got into the weight room. That's because of the era we grew up in. We didn't know enough about weights in high school, and that kind of stuff. Joe is very, very strong for his size right now. That will surprise a lot of people, when they see him in the weight room. Yeah, he does remind me of (Panos) very much, especially how level-headed they are.

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