Coaching 'Em Up

The Army All-Americans are a special group, and East team defensive line coach Dwayne Thomas reflects on the experience and his talented group of nine.

The temperature reads 43-degrees in San Antonio.

As the Army All-American East squad took the field Thursday, sleet came down briefly.

Defensive line coach Dwayne Thomas emerged from the team bus in shorts and a t-shirt.

"Coach DT" as the nine defensive lineman selected for the U.S. Army All-American East team call him, was ready to coach.

"I am a relationship person and the challenge is getting in there and getting to know the guys," Thomas said. "Making sure they understand that it is an all-star game and it is a showcase."

Thomas has done that, and the players are buying in -- if the chants rising up to the press box from the defensive line group are any indication.

He continued, "We are going to get you all as many reps as we can in a game, but twenty years from now you are going to look back and say I was a part of the Army All- American team. So lets put that all in perspective, being selected is really the honor."

An honor that Thomas himself was happy to accept, when he was selected to be a part of the coaching staff.

"They invited me out, and I've got two kids on the team," Thomas said. "Khaliel Rodgers and Kenny Bigelow they both played for me in high school."

He added with a laugh, "I guess they like my style."

Another group that likes what Thomas is doing -- is USC. Bigelow and Rodgers are committed to the Trojans.

"David Sils plays for me as well, who is a 2015 quarterback who has been offered and committed to USC as well," Thomas said. "I like those guys at Southern California, they do a good job."

Thomas is the head coach at Eastern Christian in Elkton, Md., and has a simple philosophy towards football.

"I think people get involved with football for one of two reasons," Thomas said. "For recreation or for desperation."

He took a second to reflect on his own athletes, Bigelow and Rodgers.

"These guys got involved with football for the second reason, out of desperation. Its the only way they would be able to get to college for free," Thomas said. "If they didn't have the athletic ability to play they might not have ever even go to college."

That's why Thomas got into the field.

"That inspires me to work with them," Thomas said. "I've been blessed with some abilities to pull the best out of people so it all works out."

And during the week, Thomas has been trying to do just that with the nine defensive lineman on the East squad.

"I am impressed with all nine of them, really when young athletes get these types of accolades you become big headed sometimes," Thomas said. "You want to be laid back and don't' want to step to the front, and these guys stepped up."

Thomas has found something that links them all together, no matter where they are from.

"As defensive lineman I tell them all the time, your the big brother and everybody else on the team is your little brother so you have to protect the family and the buy into that kind of stuff," Thomas said. "I think it's a group that wants to work hard, they are driven and going to some beautiful colleges and this is their last time playing before they show up on someones campus."

Some of those kids are Southern California bound Jason Hatcher, Bigelow, Alquadin Muhammed, Penn State bound Garrett Sickels, and plenty more.

"We have units and some that are faster than others," Thomas said. "That's the racehorse group and some that are bigger than others thats the rhinoceros group."

And those two groups foster a competitive environment.

"They work within their groups and against the offensive line," Thomas said. "And it's working out well for us. I think that is the best way to approach it, instead of having a first or second team..."

As Thomas begins the final part of his sentence a group of his defensive lineman interrupt him.

"Best coach ever," they yell.

His simple response was.

"Wow," Thomas mumbled with a smile on his face -- and without missing a beat.

He continued, "Instead of having a first team and a second team, they are both first teams just competing against each other. And oh yeah, there is an offensive line over there."

If there is one thing that Thomas hopes the group remembers from the experience in San Antonio, it is a simple lesson.

"You have this great ability and you are on this stage, go out and showcase who you are and what you are all about," Thomas said. "You are representing your faith, family and football team so why not go out there and give it all you got."

He added, "They respond to that, it's no magic dust, its hey, we are here and you are an Army All-American you are going to be on TV, why not go out there and be the best you can possibly be -- and why not prepare for that."

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