January 4, 2021

Thomas driven to get back on the field

Winnipeg Blue Bombers #95 Jake Thomas

The name escapes Jake Thomas now. But rewind to 2012 and someone – it might have been a coach, could have been a veteran player – offered the fresh-faced Winnipeg Blue Bombers rookie some sage advice.

“I can’t remember who told me this, but it always stuck with me: the best two abilities you can have as a football player are accountability and durability,” said Thomas Monday during a media conference call following the announcement of his one-year contract extension with the club.

“Accountability is knowing what you’re doing out there, knowing what your teammates’ jobs are going to be. And then durability is actually just being out there on the field. Those are the two pillars I’ve prided myself on throughout my career. I don’t think without whoever told me that lesson so many years ago – I wish I could remember who – I would have been able to last so long in the league.”

Now, they don’t set betting lines for stuff like this, but back in ’12 the odds of Thomas making the Bombers’ roster – let alone having carved out a solid Canadian Football League career – would have been long.

Really long.

It’s not that Thomas didn’t have good credentials. He was a conference all-star with Acadia in his senior season and a CIS Second-Team All-Canadian in 2010.

Still, he was also a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, a year after the Bombers had appeared in the 2011 Grey Cup on the backs of their ‘Swaggerville’ defence, and Thomas was hardly ready to step right into the starting lineup, let alone survive camp.

Yet here he is gearing up for what would be his ninth season in Bombers colours and coming off a 2019 season in which he recorded a career-best five quarterback sacks. Thomas is not only the Bombers’ longest-serving player, but also one of the most respected. All of that is part of why he was selected to be the player to accept the Grey Cup from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie when the drought ended in November of 2019.

“In 2012 my main goal was to just make the team, whether that be practice squad or active roster or whatever it might be,” said Thomas. “I tried to do anything I could to make the team. I don’t think in my wildest dreams I ever imagined that I’d still be playing football in 2021. I’ve been very fortunate in that.

“I’ve had a lot of great mentors coming up and through with the Bombers… Bryant Turner really took me under his wing there in the first couple of years and taught me how to be a pro. Alex Hall, Jason Vega, Greg Peach, Jamaal Westerman all taught me a little bit.”

Thomas spoke of the Grey Cup trophy presentation as being “a surreal moment for me and something I’ll never forget.”

And now, after diving into the real estate business in Frederiction, N.B. last September, Thomas is getting the itch to play again and to help the Bombers take a shot at becoming the first team to win consecutive Grey Cups since the Montreal Alouettes of 2009-10.

“A lot of guys had re-signed (last year) and were really excited to push for that two in a row, that doesn’t happen often in our league,” said Thomas. “But just seeing a few guys start to re-sign got the bug going for me going again just to be there in Winnipeg and hopefully be there sharing it with a lot of fans to see that banner get raised. It’s just the drive to win more Grey Cups was the main factor for me to keep on playing.”

“If there was going to be football played (in 2021) I still had the drive, I still had the want to be out there, especially because I think we’ll have a really competitive team next year and there aren’t many chances to win championships.”

The signing of Thomas makes him the third name to come off the Bombers’ pending free-agent list in the last week, following the announced returns of right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick and quarterback Sean McGuire.

More are undoubtedly soon to follow, too, if the excitement for 2021 which Thomas has sensed in recent group chats or Zoom calls with teammates are any indication.

“Seeing Jermarcus Hardrick re-sign and Sean McGuire… it just piques everyone’s interest,” said Thomas. “One of the reasons we had so much success, I guess it’s two seasons ago now, would be because we were such a tight-knit group. (The cancellation of the 2020 season) has been very unfortunate, but for a lot of guys it’s brought us closer. We did a lot of Zoom calls and I felt there was a lot more group chats, not just positional groups but full-team groups.

“We have a close group of guys that enjoy playing for each other, want to win for each other. I think a lot of guys want to get back and hopefully they’re able to get back.”