For anyone who’s ever seen Walker’s Brian Thomas play football or basketball, the fact that he’s a special talent isn’t up for debate.
So his ascension to the No. 1 receiver prospect in the state in Top247 rankings released Wednesday by 247Sports shouldn’t be a surprise either.
“I think the thing that’s tough is always it seems like there’s some good receivers in the state, but I think this is particularly a very strong year, so that’s probably hard to do to rank as many good players as there are, but I certainly feel like Brian is the best guy,” Walker football coach Chad Mahaffey said. “For us, he’s just been tremendous and has a great potential. We’re really looking forward to seeing him his senior year and continue to develop as a complete player.”
As a junior, Thomas was the co-Offensive MVP on the District 4-5A All-District team and the All-Livingston Parish Offensive MVP after logging a career-high 75 catches for 1,272 yards and 17 touchdowns, while also helping the Wildcats in the return game and on defense.
“He’s got a great combination of physicalness and explosiveness, but also the skill to go with it, and I think that’s what makes him a really unique player,” Mahaffey said.
But that’s not all. Thomas is also a top prospect in basketball, much like his former teammate Jalen Cook, who signed with LSU to continue his basketball career.
Thomas was a first-team All-Parish selection in basketball as well as the parish’s Defensive Player of the Year, averaging 17.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game.
“He just has all the tools,” Walker boys basketball coach Anthony Schrio said of Thomas. “He’s just a freakish athlete, and he’s got skill to go along with it. He’s got skill in both sports -- in football and basketball.”
Schiro said a measure of the attention Thomas has gained was on display during basketball season when football coaches from Georgia, Alabama and LSU came to watch him play during basketball season.
“You’ve got your top teams in the country coming to watch him play basketball, and these are football guys coming to watch him play basketball … just a phenomenal athlete in both sports,” Schiro said. “It’s a rare thing. I think I said this when both Jalen and Brian came on campus Jalen’s sophomore year and Brian’s freshman year. I said it’s so rare to get a kid at the caliber of either one of them in your career as a coach, much less two, and to have them at the same time was just a phenomenal thing for us.”
Mahaffey echoed that sentiment.
“It means we’re fortunate,” Mahaffey said. “Every coach, every program, would love to have any kid that’s being able to be recruited. And to have two programs with the same kid that he’s good enough to be able to play at the next level obviously says a lot about him, and I’m sure Coach Schiro feels the same. We just want to help him continue to develop as a player and person, and (I’m) looking forward to one last year getting to work with him.”
With options in front of him, Thomas will likely have to make a decision whether to stick with football or basketball, something Schiro is very aware of after Cook gave up football his senior year to focus solely on basketball. Schiro also knows Thomas could opt to focus solely on football.
“I can understand that. Do I want him to do that? Absolutely not. I want him to play,” Schiro said with a chuckle. “I’m going to support the young man either way he goes. I understand his decision. I’m proud to have been his coach so far. I want another good year with him, and we’ll see what the future holds for him.”
“When you say you have to make a decision, that’s a good problem to have in his case. Does he want to play basketball? Does he want to play football? As a young man, that’s a decision he’ll make,” Schiro continued, noting Thomas has gotten attention from Texas A&M and Florida in basketball. “Whatever he decides to do, everybody’s going to support him. I’m so proud of him already for the things he’s accomplished for us. It’s an amazing thing to watch a guy like that mature through high school and to see attention he’s getting and be able to handle it in not just one sport, but two. And when you say attention, it’s not like he’s getting recruited by small schools.”
That won’t be the only decision Thomas faces, Schiro said.
“Even if he decides which sport he wants to play, he’s going to have a decision to make of which school he wants to go to,” Schrio said. “I’m going to support whatever he does because he’s a good young man and just a great athlete. The decision-making process comes with the territory, I guess, when you’re that gifted.”
Schiro said having gone through the same experience with Cook last season helped prepare him for Thomas’ recruitment process.
“If I learned anything, it’s that those young men just need the support that you can give them with the best advice,” Schiro said. “You want to guide them with the best advice you can give them, but ultimately you understand that it’s their decision.”