Tyler Thomas showed big-play capability as a tight end last year, but he felt he was a little slow.
So this offseason, the Columbus East tight end shed about 40 pounds from his 6-foot-6 frame. Now a sleek 235, the senior has the speed and quickness to get open on most defenses.
“I just knew that I needed to get faster and get lighter on my feet because I was slow last year, and I wasn’t very mobile, and I didn’t have that much endurance,” Thomas said. “I knew that going into my senior season, I needed to get more focused on being in shape and just doing what’s right.”
So Thomas focused on improving his speed, working on his hands and getting down the fundamentals of the tight end position. In the midst of slimming down, he ran a 5.0-second 40-yard dash this summer.
Last year, Thomas caught eight passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns. The biggest came on the final play of the first half against Westfield in the Class 5A state championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“At first, I really didn’t comprehend what just happened,” Thomas said. “It took me a little bit, and I was just like, ‘Wow, I just scored a touchdown in the state championship game.’ I comprehended it after a while, and it was crazy. There’s nothing like it.”
With the Olympians returning only three catches from the wide receiver position from last year, Thomas figures to be more involved in the passing game this season. But East remains a heavily run-oriented offense.
Friday night, the Olympians threw the ball nine times in a 42-17 season-opening win at Bloomington South. Six different receivers caught passes, including Thomas, who had one catch for six yards.
“We want to spread the ball out,” East coach Bob Gaddis said. “Tyler does a great job of being a blocker for us and being versatile. We can move him around a little bit. All the things we do in our passing game are designed to make the reads to the open guys. If we get single coverage, or if we get no coverage, we’re going to throw him the football.”
As a sophomore, Thomas played in two tight-end sets with then-senior Rhett Myers, who now plays at Air Force. Last year, Thomas was the primary tight end.
Now, Thomas is relating his experience with other tight ends on the team.
“He learned a lot from Rhett as far as work habits and how you do things,” Gaddis said. “I know Rhett was a great leader, and that’s one of the things that Tyler is very good at. He’s taken our other tight end, Isaac VanCuren, under his wing and is trying to teach him how to play tight end.”
Meanwhile, Thomas also is playing on defense this year. He started at defensive end against Martinsville and recorded two tackles.
Thomas is hoping to play in college and said coaches from Illinois State, Eastern Michigan and Ball State have talked to him.
But for now, the focus is Friday night’s game against crosstown rival Columbus North. The Bull Dogs beat the Olympians last year for the first time since 2011.
“The guys are looking forward to it,” Thomas said. “We’re wanting to beat them really bad.”
What: Columbus East vs. Columbus North football
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Columbus East High School