Photo Courtesy of Mark Adair/WNY Football Weekly
Like many of his former teammates, Javon Thomas left Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School after his sophomore year, due to the lack of certainty surrounding the school and its football team during the summer of 2017.
Thomas was looking for a school that would support and prepare him for the future.
Cleveland Hill went above and beyond for Thomas the past two years.
“It’s like a second family to me,” said Thomas, who will be playing for the South team in the 44th annual Kensington Lions All-Star Classic on Wednesday. “They give you love and have good hearts.”
Raw, with blazing speed, Thomas’ arrival in late August was an early Christmas gift for the Golden Eagles’ football program and coach Glen Graham.
Graham thought he already had a really strong team in place. Cleve Hill had tailback Aaron Wahler was coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season as a sophomore. Also back were Manny Al-Hemyari and Sam Arrington, who went on to become finalists for the Trench Trophy.
“I thought to myself I must have done something okay in life to get a break like this,” Graham said. “We already had an excellent team and he (Thomas) brought us another dimension. He folded into the team quickly.”
Wahler, who’ll be playing with Thomas Wednesday, admitted that at first, he felt a bit threatened by Thomas’ presence before coming to realize it was only going to make the team that much better.
Today, Wahler considers Thomas to be family.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” Wahler said. “At first I thought “man I’m going to lose my reps,’ but then I realized that football is a team game and everyone needs each other to succeed. Having a running back just as good as me made me better because I had to work harder. The past two years have been like getting another brother.”
Thomas started his junior season a few weeks late so his first action didn’t come until the middle of the year.
On one his first carries, which came in Week 6 against Eden/North Collins, Thomas turned a near-disastrous in play into a SportsCenter worthy touchdown run. The Golden Eagles had the ball at their own one-yard line and both he and the quarterback turned the wrong way. However, Thomas somehow got the ball in the back of his own endzone and took it nearly 109 yards for the score.
In just eight games Thomas ran for 1,280 yards and 12 touchdowns helping the Golden Eagles to the state semifinals in 2017, coming up a touchdown short.
After being convinced to do so by a couple of his teammates, Thomas decided to run track in the Spring.
That’s when Thomas and Wahler, along with fellow tailbacks Chris Diem and D’Mario Grant, completed what they couldn’t in the fall, winning a state title as Cleve Hill’s 4×100 relay team in 2018.
Thomas felt welcomed by the Cleveland Hill community. To go along with his athletic success and new friends, he also started doing better in the classroom. Graham says Thomas even completed nearly three years’ worth of academic work in his two years at the school in order to graduate on time.
But he didn’t fully realize how much the new support system had to offer until he really needed it.
Tragedy struck Thomas last summer when his mother suddenly passed away.
“She meant everything to me,” Thomas said. “She was my number one fan. I could hear her over the entire the crowd. It was weird not hearing that this season.”
Thomas dedicated his senior season to her and his team dedicated theirs to him.
“I think he handled it incredibly well,” Graham said. “He played so well this year because he wanted to make her proud.”
Despite the hardship, Graham and Wahler both described Thomas as having a goofy personality that provided timely relief as the season went on. Wahler even said Thomas is one of the few people that can make him laugh.
It’s a label Thomas wouldn’t disagree with.
“I’m kind of like the goofy one out of all of us,” Thomas said. “When everybody is angry, I’m able to make them laugh. That’s what you need sometimes.”
Their running styles also contrasted as Cleveland Hill’s backfield got the ‘Thunder and Lighting’ moniker.
Thunder (Wahler) and Lighting (Thomas) ran for nearly 3,500 yards and 49 touchdowns in an option-jet sweep offense leading the Golden Eagles back to the state semis. They even had to swap positions halfway through the year after Wahler could no longer take snaps at QB due to a thumb injury.
“Playing for Cleve Hill is fun,” said Thomas, who finished 2018 with 1,561 rushing yards and 18 scores. “They teach you and help you become a better person.”
The Cleveland Hill community felt just as strongly about Thomas.
“I wish we had him the whole four years,” Graham said. “I’m not the only one who has said that. Just before he graduated our superintendent dropped in and talked to him and his grandmother and said ‘I wish we had you from kindergarten’. Athletics or not, he’s the kind of kid you want to work with.”
Wednesday night Thomas gets one last chance to honor his mother and all those that have done so much for him.
You can bet he’ll make the most of it.
The Kensington Lions All-Star Classic will be played on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Williamsville South High School. WNY Athletics will broadcast the game live, beginning with a pre-game show at 6:30 p.m.
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