It was Nov. 5, 2010, and the Wellington High School Wolverines were playing their Senior Night game against the heavily favored Seminole Ridge Hawks. The Wolverines trailed 10-9, and having just scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, opted for a two-point conversion to take the lead.
All-purpose player Alex DiNardo took the snap, faked a quarterback sneak and fired a jump-pass-like throw to Chris Thomas, who, while playing tight end, snuck behind blitzing linebackers. Thomas caught DiNardo’s pass, and the Wolverines took an 11-10 lead.
Offensive lineman Brynjar Gudmundsson rushed into the end zone and lifted Thomas high into the air. Thomas raised his arms, and the football, above his head.
Although the Wolverines eventually lost that game to Seminole Ridge 18-11, it was a dramatic improvement from the 40-7, 62-6 and 36-10 losses from the teams’ previous matchups.
Thomas was a main staple of the Wellington football program from 2008 to 2011, a period when the Wolverines went from 0-10 to district champions.
Thomas now plays for Webber International University, an NAIA school in Babson Park, Fla. As a sophomore last season, he started five games. This season, he’ll be the team’s starting strong-side linebacker from day one.
He’ll be ready for the leading role. After all, it’s what he’s been doing for years. “Chris was a great player and great teammate,” Wellington teammate Tyler Vanacore recalled. “He was one of our captains, and everyone looked up to him. He always played 100 percent and gave it his all.”
Teammate Lucas Riebe agreed. “Chris was a hard worker and very dedicated,” he said. “He has a lot of heart and always played every snap like it was his last. He played a major role in the legacy that was left by the Class of 2011… At the end of the day, I knew he always had my back.”
While others departed Wellington for greener pastures, Thomas and his classmates took it upon themselves to rebuild the WHS program.
“I was born in West Palm and lived in Wellington for 16 years,” Thomas said. “I just had a sense of hometown pride.”
In 2011, Thomas’ senior year, Wellington’s district had just three teams: Wellington, West Boca and Spanish River. The Wolverines knew that in order to win the district, West Boca was the team to beat. On Oct. 8, Wellington was 1-4 and West Boca had one loss.
“We all just came into that game with so much confidence knowing we were going to win, even though the odds were against us,” Thomas said.
The Wellington defense, led by Thomas and Derrick May, was all over the place. Wellington won 20-14 and clinched the district title two weeks later with a 21-0 win against Spanish River. Wellington eventually lost to Boyd Anderson 21-12 in the first round of the state playoffs that year.
Thomas had college offers from many Division II and Division I AA schools, and considered walking on at FAU. But at the end of the day, it was a sense of community and family that brought Thomas to Webber.
“My family really wanted to see me play in college, and they didn’t want to travel so much,” Thomas said. “They really support me with everything I do. I appreciate my parents so much for all the love and the support. Without them, I wouldn’t be in a position like this.”
Thomas hopes to keep playing for as long as he can, whether that means the CFL, Arena League or a football league in Europe.
“He has such a big heart with so much drive to succeed,” friend Jose Marin said. “He takes any opportunity to represent his school and team, showing how proud he always was of not only himself, but his team. Chris is the epitome of the perfect student athlete, making him a great role model for all students.”
As for his legacy at Wellington, Thomas said, “With our class, we were all buddies growing up, and we knew that if we stuck together, when we left we would have something to be proud of. It doesn’t matter how hard things get, you have to stick to your goals, stick to your guns and have faith that everything will work out if you truly believe in it.”
ABOVE: Chris Thomas (No. 44) listens to Wellington coach Tom Abel.