Ballard Beavers football team sports a new attitude

On a brilliant Monday morning in August, the beat of a Ludacris song is pounding from a nearby speaker as Ballard High School’s football team goes through their warm-up exercises. 

First-year head coach Joey Thomas, looking not much older than some of his players, walks through the lines of stretching high school students. He jokes with one player, cajoles another and talks seriously with a third.

“You have to develop a rapport with the players and figure out how to motivate them,” Thomas said. “Some players respond to being yelled at and others don’t. You have to figure out the best way to get your message across to each player and then use that.”

But the general attitude put forth by Thomas and that of his assistant coaches as the season's first game approaches on Sept. 2, is light and joking. They are having fun and keeping the students loose and that is the way Thomas likes it. 

Entering his first year as a coach it is clear that Thomas, who just celebrated his 31st birthday, likes to do things in a different way than Ballard High may be used to.

The veteran cornerback, who played five years in the NFL, describes himself as a player’s coach. He said he is a motivator and is the kind of coach that will give the fiery speech when needed. 

Thomas is planning to use what he learned in the NFL to help turn around the fortunes of the Ballard Beavers.

“I’ve played with the best, the crème de la crème,” Thomas said. “Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Tony Romo. And I’ve learned from the best.”

The Ballard High School community is hoping that he can use that football experience to turnaround a program that has been among the worst in the 4-A KingCo League in the last three years. After a strong 5-4 overall record in 2007, the Ballard Beavers have suffered through three abysmal seasons in which they have won a total of three games. Last year, their overall record was 1-8 and they were soundly beaten on both sides of the ball. They scored an average of 6 points a game, while allowing opponents to score an average of 31 points a game.

Thomas knows what he is up against, but he is already promising big things. He said the team isn’t where he wants it to be yet, but promises the Beavers will be much improved from previous years. When asked to make a prediction, the young coach didn’t hesitate.

“We are a playoff-caliber team,” Thomas said. “We will be in the playoffs.” 

That is going to be one tall order for the Beavers who are returning about seven starters from last year’s team.

When asked about potential stars of the team, Thomas avoids the flashy positions, such as quarterback and running back, and points to the players in the trenches.

Thomas said the team will go as far as the offensive and defensive lines take them. 

Just how far Thomas will take this team has yet to be seen. Joseph Elleweyn “Joey” Thomas was born and raised in Seattle. He was an all-around athlete who excelled at football. While attending John F. Kennedy High School in Burien, he played quarterback and defensive back and was named a two-time All Area Selection and a two-time All-State selection. 

In college, Thomas was a four-year letterman at Montana State University as a defensive back and a first-team All Big Sky selection as a sophomore, junior and senior. 

He was a third-round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in 2004. Thomas spent five years in the league, playing for Green Bay, the New Orleans Saints, the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders. He even played a stint with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League.

But he said injuries, including a series of concussions, finally forced him to retire in December of 2010.

When the Ballard High School job opened up, he said a friend called him and asked if he was interested. Thomas met with Ballard’s athletic director and the two seemed to be on the same page about the future of the program.

Ballard High School Principal Keven Wynkoop said Thomas has been a great addition to the staff, the school and the Ballard community.

“His energy and excitement have just been a breath of fresh air,” Wynkoop said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Right now, Thomas is busy teaching the details of football to his players. He said the best coaches he played for made the players focus on the details and technique.

“You’ve got to ingrain these things into the players so they don’t think about it, they just do it,” Thomas said. “The great thing about these kids is you can teach them. They want to learn.”

Right now, Thomas has about 12 coaches, but he needs between 15 and 17 “to do this thing the right way.”

He said anyone interested in helping should contact him through the school.

Thomas likes the job so much that he is already talking about spending decades leading the Ballard Beavers. But he is hoping to generate more interest from the community so they will come out and support the team. Of course, he knows the best way to do that: win on the football field.

However, Thomas said he doesn’t just want to teach his players about football. He sees the sport as a metaphor for life.

“I think football is a way to be a success in life,” he said. “I’m building good, young men who will play a positive role in society. Reach one, teach one, that is my motto.”

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