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Football shadows track ambitions

Bryan Thomas could leave Zephyrhills with three state medals swinging from his neck - if his love of football doesn't get in the way.

Last week, he aimed at only two events - the long jump and 4x100 relay.

Thomas, a senior, would enter the season as a favorite to win the 400-meter dash, but refuses to run the event during the regular season. He indicated he might change his mind come district time.

So far, he has collected on a deal with Bulldogs coach Dave Jones last season to free him from the 400.

"I promised him at the state meet if he ran a good hard 400 he wouldn't have to do it," Jones said. "I don't think he plans on doing it anyway. He was just doing it to help us with points."

Thomas finished fourth in the 400 at last year's Class 2A meet in a school-record 49.08 seconds.

He was liberated.

Thomas would prefer to focus on events to gain strength and speed for his No. 1 passion - football. He signed a letter of intent on Feb. 1 to play defensive back at Florida.

With hopes of playing as a true freshman, Thomas settled on track events that require bursts of speed, such as the 100- and 200-meter dash, the 4x100 and the long jump.

The Florida High School Athletic Association made Thomas' decision to forego the 400 easier, limiting student-athletes to four events per meet and only three running events.

Thomas' best shot at a title should come in the long jump.

He was eclipsed last season at state by Terrance Moore, then a Key West senior. Moore, seeded fourth, soared to a first-place finish with a jump of 27 feet, 5 inches. Thomas finished second at 26-0, his personal best.

"He came out of nowhere," Thomas said. "An adrenaline rush will do it to you. That's all it takes. One good jump and you can relax for the rest of the day."

Florida provided Thomas with an offseason conditioning program that changed his approach to weightlifting. Instead of high weight and low reps, he lifts lower weight at higher reps. He also ate five meals a day.

The result - a bigger, stronger Thomas with an increase in weight from 186 to 199 pounds. He's not too concerned the added weight might slow him down.

"My theory is it doesn't have an effect if you train hard while you're trying to gain weight," Thomas said. "If you're just gaining weight you'll come out all stiff."

If he can maintain his speed, Thomas should give Zephyrhills a great shot at competing for a 4x100 medal.

The team is made up of Thomas as the anchor, Sederrik Cunningham, Cannelious Ansley, Jason Wells and Al Sampson.

"Our 4x100 team feels they have a real good chance this year," Jones said. "Of course they said that last year.

"They think it's just about the speed of the runners. Usually, it's the mix of the runners. It's not always the fastest runners who make the best time."

Are the medals important to Thomas?

"Yes, state titles matter," Thomas said. "The 400's just not my favorite race.

"I'm excited and motivated. We have a real good track team. This track season's going to end it all on a good note as far as my high school career as an athlete."