It’s the off-season and it’s time to continue with another edition of our annual winter feature, Meet the Players. Let’s meet St. John’s High School Tigers quarterback, Brandon Thomas.
Most outsiders would think the St. John’s High School Tigers had a rather unsuccessful 2013 football season. After all, St. John’s finished 0-6-1 and second last in the Winnipeg High School Football League’s Class A Andy Currie Division.
However, for 16-year-old quarterback Brandon Thomas and his former head coach Brian Marks, nothing could be further from the truth. For the first time in three years, the Tigers got a point (a 14-14 tie with Maples) and for the first time in a long time, most players showed up regularly for games and practices.
“We didn’t have a great year but we had a better year,” said Thomas, whose family hails from Peguis First Nation. “I see a decent future for this team. Coach (Brian) Marks is a great coach and we played a lot better this year.”
It’s unlikely you will ever find a more positive person than Brandon Thomas. It’s also unlikely you’ll find (a) a young man who has overcome so much adversity to play football and (b) a one-eyed quarterback.
To get where he is today, the whip-smart, well-spoken Grade 11 student has won a lot more battles than he’s lost.
“When I was born, I had a cyst in brain, right behind my right eye,” Thomas explained candidly. “The doctors removed the cyst and said that eventually my sight would come back. But it hasn’t yet. So I can’t see at all out of my right eye. But when I last went to the eye doctor, he asked me to read the eye chart and he expected things to get blurry as the letters got smaller, but they never did. The doctors now say I have better sight out of one eye than most people have out of two. I mean, I don’t need glasses. I can only see the left side of my nose, but I see very clearly.”
His former coach, St. John’s teacher Brian Marks, calls Thomas, “the best one-eyed quarterback I’ve ever seen,” but Marks also says he’s never seen a harder-working, smarter quarterback than his 6-foot-4, 180 pound signal caller.
“The kid is great,” Marks said. “He can run, he throws pretty well and he loves to play. Nobody loves to play the game more than Brandon.”
Because St. John’s hasn’t provided any statistics this season, it’s hard to get a quantitative handle on what Thomas means to his team. However, there is one thing that can’t be denied. Thomas has overcome a number of obstacles in order to play the game.
“My older brother, William Bremner, who didn’t live with us, but with our grand parents, played for the St. James Rods and he always invited us to his games,” said Thomas. “I loved the game, but I wasn’t allowed to play tackle football.
“After Grade 6, I wanted to play for a team. I wanted to play for the Nomads, but my parents couldn’t afford it, but I went from King Edward School to St. John’s for Grade 7 and I saw they had a football team so I signed up to play. But they wouldn’t let Grade 7s play tackle football so I played flag and schoolyard ball and I loved it. In Grade 9, Coach Marks wanted me to tryout for the team.”
When he started, he was a chubby 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, but he still won his team’s Rookie of the Year Award as a slotback. In fact, he was the first Grade 9 player to start at St. John’s in almost a decade.
“Then in Grade 10, I tore my MCL and ACL,” he said. “I got really depressed when I couldn’t play and I lost a lot of weight. So when I was able to run again, I started to play basketball. That’s when I broke my ankle and was out another two months. It was a really hard time.”
But it didn’t stop him. Marks asked him to move from slotback to quarterback. He jumped at the chance and now he’s like to continue to play football after he graduates from high school. He keeps his grades up above 90 and would like to play university football one day.
“If I can help it, I’m not going to stop playing football,” he said with a smile. “I know I can go to university because I get good grades and I’ll get my fair share of aboriginal scholarships. I’d love to play for the Bisons one day. But there are also the Majors and the Rifles. I love the game, I don’t want to stop playing.”