By BEN JOHNSON
Bradley Thomas joined Northeastern State’s coaching staff at the perfect time. The RiverHawks’ newly-introduced wide receivers coach is taking over a group of pass catchers that has very little experience returning from last season’s squad.
That means Thomas gets to mold NSU’s new pass catchers the way he wants.
“That’s what the fun part is,” said Thomas, who joined the coaching staff not long before the RiverHawks began spring practice in March. “They’re picking things up and they’re learning. It’s fun to see those guys picking up things, and they’ll say, ‘hey, Coach Thomas, I get this right here.’ That’s probably the most rewarding thing as a coach.”
Thomas inherits a group that graduated Jahmai Coleman, Chucky Bryant and Jermaine Sherman from last year’s team. That leaves Thomas with Prince McJunkins — who saw limited playing time last year — and a bunch of newcomers.
“I can teach these from the ground up, the way I want,” Thomas said. “I’m just trying to get these guys to understand the itty-bitty things — the football, every-day things. Stuff like, hey, if this guy has a curl route right here, and this guy has a flat route under it, how they have to work hand in hand. That’s where I look at it as an advantage.”
Thomas joined NSU’s staff after coaching running backs at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M last season.
“I watched him coach at NEO. I was at practice a couple of times this fall, and I had a chance to watch him coach,” NSU head coach Kenny Evans said of Thomas, who has also spent time as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Evangel University, where he coached defensive backs in 2010. Prior to that, Thomas was the defensive coordinator at Dickson High School in Ardmore from 2008 to 2009.
“I just like the intensity that he brings to the field. I think we have a good combination of coaches, and I think he brings a lot to the table.”
Thomas’ wide receivers will get a chance to show what they’ve learned during spring drills on Saturday afternoon during the annual Green and White spring game at Doc Wadley Stadium. Asked if any receivers had started to show any electric playmaking abilities during spring practices, Thomas opted to brag about the group as a whole, including a pair of former Wagoner standouts, McJunkins and Jordan Robinson.
“Each guy is special in their own way,” Thomas said. “Prince being the one guy — with the limited reps that he took last year — is one that understands every position on the field. Jordan Robinson has showed up as a guy with big, strong hands. Any ball that comes to him, he’s probably going to catch that ball. Steffon Herd has a huge frame to work with; between Steffon and Cruz (Williams), I have two big-bodied guys. I’m just trying to get them to understand body position. Then there are the smaller guys, like Prince, Brennen Evans, Luke Franklin, Aaron Kirkpatrick, that are all going to have to be jitter big-type guys.
“Each one of these guys is so different. They’re all so unique in their own way.”
Thomas was one of two additions made to the coaching staff during the offseason. Thomas came aboard with Casey Carlo, NSU’s new defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator.
Thomas, though, is certainly the youngest on the staff at 29 years of age. So, do the other coaches consider him the new kid on the block?
“They do,” Thomas chuckled. “I haven’t gotten picked on too bad yet. But Coach Carlo reminds me, whenever he can, that I’m the newest coach to get hired. He likes to throw that one up at me a lot.”
3 things to watch at NSU spring game
1. Ethan James’ transition to left tackle. Michael Bowie’s brief, one-year stint in Tahlequah is over. He served his time well, protecting the left side of NSU’s offense after transferring from Oklahoma State. Now, after playing at right tackle in 2012, it’s James’ turn to protect Johnny Deaton’s blind side. James has always earned high praise around NSU’s camp, now it’s time to see if those words are warranted.
2. Wide receivers that separate themselves. It’s a who’s who of wide receivers in 2013. Wait, no it’s not. It’s a "who’s that?" instead. NSU is established at quarterback (Deaton) and running back with Joel Rockmore and Terrence Dixon. Now it’s time to find out who will emerge as the next play-making wide receiver. The candidates include Cruz Williams, Prince McJunkins, Brennen Evans, Jordan Robinson, Steffon Herd, Aaron Kirkpatrick and Luke Franklin.
3. Kinley Choute’s and Faafetai Te’o’s return to the defensive line. Both standouts were missed up front last season. Now, after what’s been described as impressive springs, the pair of defensive tackles return to bolster NSU’s pass rush and run stuffing.