Imperial coaches voice pride in Thomas

April 21, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

As the first-round draft picks for the National Football League were televised throughout the day Saturday, there were two Imperial Valley coaches glued to their televisions.

Those two coaches: Mike Swearingen and Kerry Legarra.

Both wanted to see what team would select Imperial native and local football standout Robert Thomas.

When in the 31st draw of the first round Thomas was named to the Rams as a linebacker, Swearingen and Legarra — who coached Thomas at Imperial High School — were not surprised.

They knew he would go in the first round. His hard work throughout his high school and college years brought him to this point, and Thomas was not about to be denied the first-round pick, the coaches said.


Late Saturday, both coaches said they were proud of Thomas and happy for him and his family.

Swearingen, who was head coach of the Imperial team up until the end of this past season, said Thomas is a natural who always pushes himself to improve.

"He worked very hard to get what he received today," said Swearingen, who described Thomas as dedicated and "totally committed."

Swearingen added, "He is the finest football player I have ever coached and he is one of the finest young human beings I have been affiliated with."

Swearingen said that in his opinion there are two positions in football in which a player must be born to play — that of running back and that of linebacker.

"Robert is a natural," Swearingen said, adding, "We could see it then."

Swearingen added Thomas would do "the little steps" it took to improve, from studying videos of his own game to learning all the information available on the teams Imperial would next play.

"We didn't have to push him to do that," Swearingen said. "Great football players do that on their own."

Beyond the field, Swearingen said Thomas also worked hard in the classroom. Swearingen said Thomas knew he would need good grades if he wanted to achieve his goals.

Legarra, who was the Imperial team's defensive coordinator and is principal of the Imperial continuation school, said along with being proud of Thomas, he is proud on behalf of the Valley.

Legarra said Thomas proves no matter where a person comes from, an individual can achieve his or her dreams if they are willing to put in the work.

"It has always been his dream to play in the NFL, and his dream has come true," Legarra said.

Legarra said throughout Thomas' career there were people who doubted his abilities.

He said there were those who questioned his being the No. 1 high school linebacker in the nation, there were those who questioned his playing Division I college football at the University of California, Los Angeles, and TV commentators Saturday questioned whether he would be selected as a first-round draft choice in the NFL.

Legarra said Thomas has always proven himself and he will prove he deserved to be selected in the first round.

Legarra, like Swearingen, said while Thomas is a great football player, "more importantly he is a tremendous human being. He will do the Valley right."

Legarra added, "I predict he will be very successful in the NFL."

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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