Liberty Hill linebacker leads defense tangibly, intangibly

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By Scott Akanewich

Liberty Hill head football coach Jeff Walker has pretty high praise for junior linebacker Andon Thomas.

“Andon’s one of the best I’ve had in my 25 years of coaching,” said Walker. “If not the best.”

But, no pressure.

Thomas led the Panthers in tackles last season in his varsity debut, racking up 121 stops in 13 games, averaging 9.3 stops per contest and is at it again this fall, already atop the tackle charts with 21 through the first two games of the new campaign, or 10.5 per game.

Which is right where he wants to be, he said.

“One of my goals this season is to average 10 tackles per game,” said Thomas, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs in at 215 pounds. “I feel like if I can do that, I can count on the rest of my defense to do the rest – I know I can count on all my brothers to get it done.”

Notice Thomas referred to them as his defense.

Which is one of the reasons Walker has such high praise for his star linebacker – the uncanny ability to inspire others by just doing his job without saying a single word.

“Andon’s just a natural leader,” said Walker. “Sure, he could be a little more vocal, but other players follow him even when he doesn’t talk.”

Whether it’s on the field during practices or games, in the weight room or studying film, Thomas said he can’t quite put a finger on the reason he seems to exude such a leadership aura and prefers to lead strictly by example.

“I think maybe it’s how hard I try to work,” he said. “I guess I figure if I work harder than everyone else, other people will follow along.”

Thomas was the starting quarterback for Liberty Hill’s freshman team during his rookie campaign with the Panthers two years ago, but was switched to the other side of the ball last year as a sophomore and there’s been no looking back as he’s established himself as a force for the Purple-and-Gold, displaying the ability to range from sideline to sideline and hone in on the ball like a heat-seeking missile.

Just how versatile is he?

“Right now, Andon could be our starting quarterback or our starting fullback,” said Walker. “He’s one of those players who is head-and-shoulders above his peers – he’s a very talented young man.”

So, where would Thomas rather play if he had his choice?

“I’d play linebacker,” he said. “I like the fact it’s a mix, like a hybrid between being a lineman and a safety in that you stop the run game, but also drop back into pass coverage.”

As the Panthers’ main man on defense, he is responsible for calling the defensive plays once defensive coordinator Kent Walker sends in the stunts and he sees how the offense is lining up – something which requires quick thinking in order to call effective audibles – but an aspect of his game which he said doesn’t add any pressure to his job description.

“No, I don’t think so – I feel the expectations, but I remain calm,” said Thomas. “I just tell the other guys where to go – a lot of it comes from studying film – I pretend like I’m in the game.”

As if all that weren’t enough, Thomas also handles the Panthers’ punting duties – not to mention the fact he also plays baseball and basketball when he’s not creating chaos on a gridiron.

However, between the sidelines is definitely where he feels most at home, he said.

“Baseball’s a close second,” said Thomas. “But, I just love football – all the contact and the brotherhood I have with my teammates – there’s nothing else quite like it.”

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