By Jean DePlacido
---- — St. John’s Prep star running back Johnathan Thomas is done for the season.
Thomas, who has verbally committed to play Division 1 college football at the University of Maryland, will have surgery later this week to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee. He was injured after an 8-yard run in the third quarter of Saturday’s 35-14 home loss to Everett.
“Righ now, getting the surgery done is the big thing. I know I will get through this,” said Thomas last night from his Peabody home.
“I know I will come back and be on the field. I’ll be stronger and better than before.”
At the time of Thomas’ injury, he had rushed for 98 yards. In just three-and-a-half games this season, the reigning Salem News Player of the Year already had 766 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns.
“He’s very disappointed,” Prep coach Jim O’Leary said of Thomas last night. “He’ll have surgery to repair the ACL and a few other minor things in the knee, but the ACL is the big thing. He plans to get back in rehabiliation quickly and get ready for the next level.
“Johnny was having a phenomenal season. It happened on a regular football play, not a big huge hit. It’s something that happened to him hundreds of times before ... but on this hit it was different.”
If Thomas’ high school career is indeed over, his career statistics at St. John’s place him among the elite running backs in North Shore high school football history.
He finished with 3,709 yards rushing in less than two-and-a-half years worth of varsity playing time, including 37 rushing touchdowns and 42 total. He also had 254 career points (including one 2-point conversion). During St. John’s Prep’s run to the Division 1 Super Bowl crown a year ago, Thomas ran for 1,812 yards and scored 16 TDs on the ground.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Thomas was an explosive back with excellent speed who is extremely hard to bring down; he always fought to break tackles and gain extra yards. He had just given his team a first down at the Crimson Tide 40-yard-line Saturday when he went down with his injury.
‘Guapo’ was checked out by team doctors and was able to get off the Cronin Stadium field on his own, but was limping noticeably. He later left the game on a golf cart and went for an MRI on Saturday night.
“He wasn’t feeling as much pain Sunday and there wasn’t much swelling,” said O’Leary. “He came to school (yesterday) on crutches and went into the weight room. It wasn’t until late afternoon that we got the results, but we really weren’t too optimistic.
“The good news is Maryland called (yesterday) and they intend to honor his scholarship. He’s such a nice kid, and I know how hard he worked to get ready for this season. Now he’s got to get ready for the next level.”
Added Thomas, “On the bright side, it’s nice to hear Maryland is sticking with me.”
O’Leary has lost his two senior starters in the backfield in just over a week; fullback Greg Kobelski was injured in a win over Central Catholic the previous week and will also miss the rest of the season.
“Johnny is a very special back, and he leaves very big shoes (to fill),” said O’Leary, whose Eagles will take a 2-2 record into Saturday’s Catholic Conference opener against visiting Malden Catholic this Saturday. “You just don’t replace that production, but we’ll expect others to step up.”
Cody Harwood took over at running back for St. John’s after Thomas went down and scored a touchdown. Junior Pat McDermott stepped in at fullback.
“We have to refocus, and it’s a tremendous opportunity for Harwood,” said O’Leary. “We certainly don’t expect him to replace Johnny because that’s not possible, but we’ll look to other people to help out and go back to a two-back set. The main thing is Johnny is in our prayers.”