The first time he stepped onto a football field for a tryout, Steve Thomas lined up the ball at midfield and proceeded to boot the ball into the end zone.
“Right away, you could tell he had pop in his leg, a live leg,” said Langley Rams general manager Jeff Alamolhoda.
This was prior to the 2012 season when Alamolhoda was the junior football team’s head coach.
Intrigued by the power Thomas had displayed on the kick-off, the coaching staff had him attempt a long field goal — from 55 yards out — and he made it.
Typically, anything beyond 50 yards has the coaching staff unsure if they should attempt the kick or punt the ball.
That first season, Thomas handled kick-offs and long field goal attempts, but now in his sophomore season, the 21-year-old from Surrey handles all of the team’s kicking duties.
He also earned himself the nickname Happy. The name was given to him because he had the huge leg, but accuracy was the issue, just like the Adam Sandler movie character Happy Gilmore, Alamolhoda explained.
But with improved accuracy, Thomas has made a seamless transition this season, leading the league in scoring. The kicker finished with 102 points — 20 points ahead of the nearest competitor, V.I. Raiders kicker Ryan Jones.
Thomas finished with 49 converts, 14 field goals and 11 singles. He also led the league in both gross (58.5 yards per kick) and net punting average (39.1 yards per kick) and was second in punting at 35.6 gross and third in net punting with 29.6 yards per kick.
“I am still training myself to do it properly, but I love doing it,” Thomas said.
The fact he is playing football is a little surprising.
“Football was something I wanted to do, but soccer always came first in our family, especially with my mom being the chairman of the club (Surrey Youth),” he explained.
Thomas played soccer from a young age and the goalkeeper was part of the Whitecaps youth program at the U17 and U18 levels. But a concussion cost him a full season and once he was healthy, Thomas decided to give football a shot.
He admits his first kick with the Rams was “definitely a soccer kick.”
“As soon as I started working with one of the coaches, I realized there is a lot of technique to it,” Thomas said.
“It is definitely different than kicking a soccer ball. Soccer is a lot about putting your whole body into it. Even though football is too, it is also about staying in a line and just connecting with the ball properly.”
The fact he has a strong leg is of little surprise.
“Even when I was younger, I always had one of the bigger kicks on the team,” Thomas said. “I was always able to kick it a mile.”
One of the biggest adjustments was getting accustomed to all the equipment football requires.
“That was definitely new to me; it is a weird thing going from wearing shin pads and goalie gloves to wearing big shoulder pads and a helmet on your head,” he said.
Thomas still has one season of junior eligibility, but he is also thinking longer term in the sport, hoping to kick in the CFL.
He is on the B.C. Lions radar, confirmed Tyler McLaren, a regional scout who focuses on the junior players for the CFL club.
McLaren has seen all of the Rams home games this season and said Thomas’ booming kick-offs are intriguing.
“We have talked to Steve and told him he needs to work on his punting and field goals,” McLaren said.
Alamolhoda knows Thomas has the potential to continue in the game.
“He has the leg,” Alamolhoda said.
“If he is able to work on some few minor technical adjustments from soccer to football, Steve will be able to go a long ways in this game.”
“We had a contest one night after practice (last season) where Steve had three chances to hit from 50, 55 and 60 yards. And if he hit two out of three, we wouldn’t have to run conditioning that night.”
The kicks were done with the defence rushing to block the kicks.
“He hit the 50, the 55er and then hit the crossbar on the 60,” Alamolhoda said.
“A 60-yard leg is an NFL-caliber leg. What he needs to work on is some fundamental and technical adjustments with his footwork and his approach to the ball when he kicks it. But he is a hard worker.”