Back to where it began | Eastlake quarterback faces former team when Wolves meet Kentwood in District playoffs

Blue Thomas and the Kentwood Conks are no strangers to one another, and will have a chance to get reacquainted when Eastlake travels to French Field this week.

Kentwood football coach Rex Norris knows all about Blue Thomas.

The longtime leader of the perennial contenders from the South Puget Sound League has watched film on Thomas and his Eastlake squad since the playoff pairings were made official over the weekend, plotting and scheming for the KingCo Crest Division’s runner-up, a team that handled Roosevelt 51-21 last week to move into the district playoff round.

But Norris’ education on Thomas began long before any of that.

That’s because two years ago, when Thomas was a freshman, Norris wasn’t just looking at him on film, he was also watching him in practice and on game day as a member of the Conks.

Following in the footsteps of his father and namesake, who went on to a career at the University of Washington after his days at Kentwood, Blue began his prep career by becoming the first player in the history of the program to play varsity football as a freshman for the Conks, starting a pair of playoff games.

“Football is in his family,” Norris said. “He is obviously a really good athlete, he prepared himself and was in a position to play, and he did a nice job.”

Those snaps came as part of the defensive backfield rather than quarterback and Norris said when his team meets one of its former brothers in arms Friday at French Field, they will see a far more developed version.

“All of his skills have gotten stronger,” he said. “His arm is a lot livelier, he manages the field well, manages the game well and he doesn’t try to do too much.”

Don Bartel, in his first year as head coach of the Wolves, said Thomas’ ability to deflect to running backs Troy and Drew Lewis and a host of capable wideouts has been his most pronounced area of growth in 2013.

After making the transition to a new locale in Sammamish, a new school and a completely new set of teammates at Eastlake and his first action as a full-time starter at quarterback last season, Thomas said the new coaching staff and the experiences of the past year are starting to pay dividends.

“I definitely feel way more confident in what we’re doing,” he said. “My knowledge for the game has improved this year.”

For the Eastlake offense, that understanding has translated into points, and plenty of them.

Since a 45-18 loss to Bothell in the fourth week of the season, the Wolves have averaged better than 42 points per game, scoring fewer than 38 only once. The past three games, Thomas and the offense have put up 48, 50 and 51 in last week’s dominant KingCo crossover win over Roosevelt.

“His biggest area,” Bartel said of his junior signal-caller. “He knows he doesn’t have to win the game for us.”

Thomas targeted eight different pass catchers in the win over the Roughriders, completing his eight passes to six different players for 170 yards and two scores (he added 35 more yards and a touchdown on two carries), evidence of his willingness to take full advantage of a cadre of playmakers that helped Eastlake to five straight wins.

With friends still at Kentwood and on the team, Thomas said he knows the emotions could play an even larger role than usual and added his main focus is preparing for a defense that will surely be keyed on slowing him through the air and on the ground.

“I’ve been communicating with those guys, talking to them,” he said. “I want them to say we’re the fastest team they’ve ever played.”

Norris, who coached alongside Bartel at the Semper Fidelis All American Bowl previously, said containing Thomas and the Eastlake offense was his chief concern heading into the game.

“All their skill position players have the ability to go to the house,” Norris said. “We have to get their offense off the field and that has been a challenge for us all year.”