If you have followed high school football in Baton Rouge this fall, the name Jackson Thomas is probably a familiar one. You might also know that Thomas is a first-year starter at quarterback for No. 2-seeded Catholic High.
Think you know Jackson Thomas? Try this multiple-choice quiz:
• Thomas was always the No. 1 quarterback in waiting for the Bears.
• Thomas came to Catholic as a star QB out of middle school.
• Thomas is a one-sport athlete who focuses on football.
• None of the above.
And the correct answer is — none of the above. That fact is extremely notable. Thomas was voted the District 5-5A baseball MVP in the spring as an infield/outfielder.
This fall, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior has completed 149 of 205 passes for 1,926 yards and 22 touchdowns. He has an astounding completion percentage of 72.7 and has thrown just one interception in 11 games. But the numbers are only part of Thomas’ story going into Friday’s Division I select semifinal game against John Curtis. Game time is 7:05 p.m. at Olympia Stadium.
“There are two big myths about sports at Catholic High and Jackson dispels both of them,” Catholic coach Gabe Fertitta said. “One is that you have to concentrate on one sport, and the other is that you have to come here as a star player in order to get a chance to play.
“He was not the starting quarterback in middle school (at St. Aloysius). And his freshman year he was the third-string quarterback. Over time, we had guys who opted to focus on other sports or who switched positions. During his sophomore year, he became the backup to (Cameron) Dartez.”
Thomas wound up starting two games as a sophomore when Dartez was injured. The most notable was a loss to East Ascension. When Dartez returned, the Bears went on to win the Division I title, beating Curtis 20-14 in 2017. The Patriots ousted the Bears 49-7 in last year’s title game.
After backing up Dartez, who is now a walk-on at Nicholls State, Thomas knew he was ready to take over an offense that also features dominant line play and multiple weapons.
“It’s been great to have the starting role this year. I feel like it is my job to work with all players and help make everyone better,” Thomas said. “Our efficiency moving the ball and being able to stay ahead of the chains is what I am most pleased with. I learned a lot from Cameron, particularly about staying in the pocket so a play can develop.”
Thomas’ ability to extend plays in the pocket is one thing that is both an asset and a challenge for Fertitta.
“The way he can improvise in the pocket has tested me,” Fertitta said. “Every time we snap the ball, there are multiple options for where a play can go. But with Jackson in the pocket, there have been times when I’ve looked out there and wondered what he is going to do. He is elusive and smart. So, I’ve had to change the way I coach to adjust to Jackson.”
Thomas said he believes his ability to read defenses and the tendencies of defensive linemen are things he has improved on during the season. But now comes the biggest test from Curtis, a team known for its tenacious defense.
“I’m excited … it’s going to be a great physical game with lots of physicality on both sides,” Thomas said. “Ball security and staying ahead of the sticks (yard markers) is key. And if something bad happens, I can’t panic. We have to keep working to make plays.”