WESTFIELD -- It's easy to get bogged down in all the "Xs" and "Os" in football. It can easily become overwhelming for a player cutting his teeth in the sport at the varsity level.
Not Tyrell Thomas.
The junior cornerback was right at home from Day One and topped off his first-ever football season with an excellent performance on Day 104 in the Western Massachusetts Division III Super Bowl.
"I think he has a lot of knowledge, even though it's his first year," safety Eric Leitch said, noting Thomas' great speed. "You put those two things together and he's a great player."
The basketball standout didn't play last year because he was still getting settled in after moving to North County from New York City. After watching the Mounties win it all last December, he knew he needed to be apart of it in 2012.
"I'm friends with like the whole team, and I was the only one out of my friend circle that wasn't playing football, so it was only right," he said on the field Saturday after winning the Super Bowl. "And this was [Tyler] Picard's, Ethan [Ryan's] and Hank [Barrett's] last year, so I just wanted to experience that with them. I didn't want to not be a part of it and be on the sideline and watch them celebrate like this. I just wanted to be a part of this feeling right here."
It wasn't all roses for Thomas this season. He was beat for a touchdown in the Oct. 26 game at home versus Wahconah -- the game that ended the Mounties' Berkshire County record 33-game winning streak.
The pass was a lob into the end zone to a receiver that had broke free behind Thomas. He vowed he wouldn't get beat again, and he followed through.
And then came the most important plays of his young career. They turned out to be plays that propelled the Mounties to their third straight Super Bowl title.
The first came on Belchertown quarterback Nicholas Leduc's fourth pass attempt. He was 0 for 3 until that point but none hurt like this one did when Thomas called upon his basketball skills and out-jumped the receiver for the ball. The interception put a quick end to an Orioles drive that started on their own 43 and gave Greylock the ball at its own 22-yard line with 7:55 left in the first half.
"The quarterback, he doesn't really throw far, he kind of lobs it, which also gives me time to re-gather myself and get under the ball and catch it," he said. "That's just what I did."
When the Mounties were unable to convert the turnover into points and punted back to Belchertown, Thomas came up with another big-time play in a crucial situation.
Daivon Clement had just tackled running back James Ryan in the backfield for a 2-yard loss, setting up third-and-9 from the Orioles' own 16. Instead of trying to just get the first down, Leduc went deep down the field, hoping for a quick score. But Thomas was in position to leap up and deflect the ball away, forcing a three-and-out with a little more than 2 minutes left in the first half. The play still didn't yield any points for Greylock, but by the time Belchertown regained possession, there was enough time for only two running plays from deep in its own territory.
Thomas finished the first half with an interception and two deflections, already a great game for a cornerback. But he wasn't done, helping the Mounties seal the win in the second half with an interception assist.
Ryan had just broken free for a 51-yard touchdown, breaking the 2,000-yard mark and giving the Mounties a 16-0 lead early in the fourth quarter. On Belchertown's ensuing possession, Thomas and Leitch teamed up to put all the momentum on Greylock's side. Leduc aired out a pass down the left sideline to James Ryan, but Thomas again stepped in front and got the ball at the top of his jump. He tipped it over Ryan and into the waiting arms of Leitch.
"I think he's one of the fastest out there," Leitch said. "He can jump the highest, and that's why I didn't want to try and intercept it myself because I knew he was going to be up there."
So why was Thomas so effective against the pass? He credits the scout team.
"Certain plays I just already knew what they were going to do before the ball was even snapped the way they set up," Thomas said.
While this was Thomas' rookie season, coach Shawn Flaherty said he's been ahead of the curve from the start.
"I give a lot of credit to Tyrell. He was a fast learner, a great athlete, and he put it together real quick,"he said. "We've had guys that it takes four, five weeks to really develop ... But to come in raw, without any prior knowledge in a lot of respects or any prior playing time and then to pick up all the stuff that we're talking about, I mean it was that preseason, he was already a Week Three, Four or Five veteran. So to make it this far, he's like a three-year veteran in my mind."