Jacob Thomas has been selected to play for Team Canada in the inaugural IFAF Junior World Championships taking place in Canton, Ohio from June 27 to July 5.
No doubting Thomas in junior football

By Robert Touchie

Father's Day came a day early for Ed Thomas this year.

His son, Jacob, learned Saturday that he would be a member of Team Canada's U20 football team at the inaugural International Football World Junior championship beginning June 27 in Canton, Ohio.

Thomas, a defensive end who played his high school ball at Leo Hayes High School before moving on to Acadia University last season, and linebacker Ed McNally of Moncton, also playing at Acadia, were the New Brunswickers selected to the team following a series of regional tryout camps that involved nearly 5,000 potential players nationwide.

"This is just the best father's day present,'' said his proud parents, Ed and Andrea Thomas. "As parents and as a family, we are so proud and excited for Jake. He has worked very hard and has committed so many hours training. This is his dream and all of his hard work is paying off.''

Eight countries will make up the world jr. tournament including the host Americans. Canton is the site of the NFL Hall of Fame and the tournament is being held in conjunction with the annual Hall of Fame festivities.

Canada goes in as the top seed. Four games are scheduled for the 27th including Canada playing New Zealand. Winners advance to semifinal games on the Wednesday with the semifinal winners advancing to the Sunday, July 5 championship game. Placement games are scheduled for the Saturday.

Larry Harlow, president of Football N.B., called the selection of Thomas and McNally, a "great reflection on the level of player and coaching development happening in N.B.''

Thomas and McNally earned their spots on the 45-man roster via their performance at the national training camp staged at University of Western Ontario University. Some 65 Canadian football prodigies were invited to the camp from a series of regional tryout camps. Four New Brunswickers were initially identified to attend the Eastern Canadian camp at Concordia University in Montreal. Frederictonians Elliott Hicks and Ryan Downe, both members of the Mount Allison Mounties, were also among the hopefuls.

At the national camp, the players were put through two a days and team meetings. Thomas, in particular, rose to the challenge, said Jeff Cunmins, his coach at Acadia and defensive line coach for Team Canada.

"Jake's been fighting, scratching, clawing and showing a lot of the heart that comes with that family name,'' said Cummins. "He's a great kid, from a great family, one with a great football tradition. We're thrilled to have him and the versatility he gives us on the defensive line."

Lest anyone think success has come easy for Thomas, last season he and the Axemen experienced the growing pains that being a rookie on a young CIS football team can bring. Thomas said it was a learning experience.

"We (Acadia) maybe didn't have the year we wanted, and I didn't either, but I think we could be Vanier Cup (emblematic of Canadian university supremacy) contenders in two to three years," Thomas said. "Our core is there and we're young and talented enough at all positions that we'll be battling for the conference title this year, I think."

Cummins concurs.

"Jake won't start for us (on the national team),'' said Cummins. "His role will be on special teams and being a valuable utility player on the defensive line. But his role with the Axemen this season will be as a key component, and I expect him to push for a starting job. He's 260-265 pounds. He's gotten faster and stronger (Thomas was clocked at 5.07 in the 40 yard dash, up from 5.7 from one year ago, and his bench press has gone from 0 to 15 repetitions at 225 pounds) and he's been working hard. And remember, he's only 18. Jake has a late birthday (December) and he was a 17-year-old playing an awful lot for us last year (in a league essentially comprised of 18-25 year olds)."

Thomas has a history of success. At Leo Hayes, he maintained an 89 average in his Grade 12 year while winning the provincial high school west conference player of the year honours in football. He had been rookie of the year in Grade 10. He also captained the Leo Hayes hockey team to provincial championship honours and was named MVP of the rugby team playing his first year in the sport.

Thomas' upside would appear to be huge on the football field and in the classroom (he carried a 3.3 GPA this past year at Acadia as a freshman).

"I would not be here without my family. None of us would even be in football if not for my grandfather (Fredericton Wall of Fame Joey George, who has been in ill health of late). My folks being there at every game and practice and always volunteering has been so important,'' said Thomas. "And really, I owe a lot of what I have done in football to my brothers Josh (a former All-Canadian defensive lineman at Acadia who set him up with positional conditioning drills, that Jake attributes to his increased speed, power and agility) who coached me at Leo Hayes and Billy Joe (who played at Acadia, Mount Allison, and professionally in London, Ont.), who is really the best athlete in the family by a mile."

Ed and Andrea Thomas plan to make the trek to Canton.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of celebrating going on around the George and Thomas households when I get back in July,'' said Jake. "I'm looking forward to it. But until then, there is still a lot of work to be done and I can't wait to get at it.''

IFAF Junior World Championship Website

Team Canada Website

Team Canada Coaching Staff

International Federation of American Football Website

Football Canada Website

Below: 1999 Nashwaaksis Mosquito Axemen.
Jacob Thomas, second row, far left, age 9.