If Sheldon junior quarterback Brock Thomas is showing glimpses of former Irish dual-threat star Jordan Johnson, there is good reason.
Johnson, who led Sheldon to 6A titles in 2007 and 2009 before a college career at Montana, has taken Thomas under his wing since returning to the program as the offensive coordinator last season.
In two games for the Irish (2-0), the 6-foot, 175-pound Thomas has completed 33 of 50 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. He also has rushed for 287 yards and six touchdowns on 33 carries.
His play is reminiscent of Johnson, who was named the 6A offensive player of the year in 2009 when he led Sheldon to a big-school state-record 720 points as a 6-1, 185-pound senior. A three-year starter, Johnson passed for 8,158 yards and 94 touchdowns and passed for 2,903 yards and 45 scores in his career.
“When I watch the two, there are a lot of similarities between their styles,” Sheldon coach Josh Line said. “It's been a nice partnership. I think Jordy has helped Brock improve quite a bit.”
Johnson has high praise for Thomas.
“We're pretty similar size-wise. He's probably a better athlete than I ever was,” Johnson said. “The ceiling is pretty high. He could be one of the best guys to ever play here at that position. He's still got a long ways to go, but if he keeps going on the trajectory he's been on, he could be pretty darn good.”
Thomas has learned about Johnson's playing days.
“Everyone tells me how good of a player he was back in high school and college,” Thomas said. “He's really smart. I've seen video on Hudl, and he was really, really good. He was able to move around and run, like I've been able to do this year. He'd be someone that I'd hope to play like.”
Thomas made a splash when he took over as the starting quarterback in the spring. In four games, he passed for 774 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 259 yards and five scores. He has taken his game up a notch this season.
“He has a better understanding of the offense,” Johnson said. “In the spring, we didn't really do anything until just a couple weeks before we were playing games, so in fairness to him, it was a pretty steep learning curve. He keeps getting better. He was way better in the second game than he was in the first game.”
Said Thomas: “I think I've improved a lot. Last spring was kind of a shortened preparation, and I didn't have all the playbook down. This year, I've had all summer and since last season to grow. It's helped me a lot.”
Thomas has benefited from Sheldon returning to more of a spread offense after the team had favored a physical approach since Line took over as coach in 2017. Line credits Johnson with helping the offense make the transition.
“He's got some new wrinkles that I really like,” Line said. “A lot of the key elements of what we do are the old Sheldon offense.”
Sheldon has implemented a zone-read scheme for Thomas to take advantage of his running ability.
“It's just all stuff that I grew up doing and we've done around here for a long time, with the addition of maybe a couple different wrinkles,” Johnson said. “I think if somebody showed up here and knew a little bit about Sheldon football history, they would say it kind of looks like what they did a few years ago.”
The way the strategy fits Thomas is “really scary,” according to Line.
“Brock is a complete quarterback, but he's definitely a guy that can run,” Line said. “He's got good speed, and he's explosive. He's creating situations for us.”
The Irish aren't the type of team that will overpower opponents at the line of scrimmage, according to Line, so the deception in the running game makes up for it.
“That RPO aspect of it is really valuable to us,” Line said. “And with Brock's ability to run, it makes it even more difficult to defend. I would hate to defend Brock.”
Thomas is learning how to be a more efficient runner, choosing his spots.
“Sometimes I'm able to pull it down if I read it correctly,” Thomas said. “I like it. Last week, I had a couple of scrambles when plays would fall apart, and I was able to get a couple extra yards. I've gotten a lot better at reading and being able to be calm under pressure and make some plays.”
During his playing days, Johnson was known for having an innate sense for making the proper read, and he is imparting that knowledge to Thomas. Line said that Thomas showed improvement from the opener against Glencoe to the second game against Grant, in particular in spreading the ball around to different players.
“It was nice to see some of our other receivers make plays, where we were kind of isolated in our first contest,” Line said. “That was just Brock seeing the field a little better and taking what the defense gives us.”
Thomas also is learning from former Sheldon coach Marty Johnson, Jordan's father. Marty, who won 137 games and three state championships in 14 seasons with the Irish (1997-2010), has been working with Jordan at practices and games.
“It's been kind of fun to watch them work together,” Line said. “It's a cool thing because Marty does a great job of helping but letting Jordy be the guy that makes the decisions. And Jordy's done a fantastic job.”
Sheldon's staff also includes former Oregon quarterback Jason Fife, who is a dentist in Eugene.
“Brock's got a lot of people around him that have a lot of experience,” Line said. “He just has a huge desire to learn. You see that progress incrementally each week. It's fun to watch.”