Rafael Thomas started his coaching career in 2013, arrived in Marshall in 2017 but gave up coaching for a year to work in the oil field.
“It was something I had to do,” he explained. “My wife and I had a baby recently. I knew a baby was on the way so I had to get up financially. So I did what I had to do.”
Working in a different field showed him just how much he missed coaching.
“That’s one thing it showed me – it showed me the difference between a career and a job,” Thomas said. “I have a passion for this and I enjoy doing this and it’s fun to do. I like coming to work and doing that (working in the oil field) made me understand it was just a job. I was only doing it for the money and I hated it every day. It renewed my passion for what I love to do. It put things into perspective, big time.”
Coaching is something Thomas realized he’s wanted to do since he was a young boy because of the influence that coaches had on him.
“I grew up with a single mom and all my coaches were like my father figures,” he said. “My dad was in my life but he lived two hours away from me, so in sports, I was around men every day at football, baseball and basketball practice and I saw those guys and some of them were doing it for free but they still enjoyed it. They took me to all the tournaments. They played that role. So my thing was, that’s all I knew so that’s what I wanted to do to help out kids to reach their full potential and be able to give back. In coaching, yeah, we get paid but you get more excitement from your kids making it rather than what you make every month. You like to look up on Saturdays and turn on the TV and see one of your guys out there running around for Texas. That’s the cool part.”
One of those coaches was the late John Outlaw, Thomas coach at Lufkin High School.
“Outlaw was the guy who everybody said he was,” Thomas said. “He was one of those guys who was going to love you but he was also going to be hard on you at the same time but he would never end the day with you on a bad note. He might jump your tail during practice or for something you did in the classroom but before you leave, he’s going to love you up and make sure you know that before you walk out of the door, every day. He wanted to see you succeed.
“He told me from day one, he called me ‘Ralfy’ and he said, ‘Ralfy, this football thing is not going to be your life,’” Thomas continued, ‘I want you to be a great husband and a great father. I want you to go to school and get your degree. That’s what it’s about.
“This football thing is going to end one day.’ That’s the first thing he said to me and that’s the type of guy he was. For someone who won so many games, you’d think he’d be more selfish and just worry about wins but that’s why he won – he got the kids to buy into him as a man first before a football coach. He always put himself as a man before football.
“That’s the type of person he was. I look at sports as teachers of life and he was one of those who instilled that with football.”
Sports have always been a big part of Thomas’ life and have taught him many life lessons, whether it was while playing along Dez Bryant in the Lufkin Panthers’ receiving squad, or working his way up to being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I played a lot of baseball and football growing up and I feel like sports are the biggest teachers in life,” he said. “They’re going to teach you success but it’s also going to teach you how to deal with failure, especially baseball because in baseball, you learn quickly that everything can go great one day and you look amazing. You can go up and hit three home runs but the next day, you go out and look like you’ve never played before and strike out three times and that’s life. Every day will not be the same. You have to role with the punches and just deal with it. You have to stay consistent mentally, especially when you become a husband and a father like myself, you have your wife and your child looking up to you and how you’re going to react and seeing what you’re going to do. If you fail, you can’t sit there and pout about it. You figure it out. You can’t keep dwelling on the problem. Find a solution.”
Now in his first year back in the coaching field as the receivers coach, Thomas has high hopes for the Mavericks in the near future.
“Honestly, to just build on what they’ve already started over the last two years, just keep on keeping on,” he said when asked of his expectations. “I was here year one and that was kind of the phase where you work out all the kinks and that was the trial season. Then I took the year off last year and they went the third round and played a game they could have easily won, and came up a little short but it’s one of those deals where you saw it from the regime came in and we’ve still got coach (head coach Jake) Griedl who was a part of that. You see the ground work that was being laid then but now he’s taking it to another level.
“I’m just excited to be part of it and do my part to see these kids keep carrying on in the right way as they get closer and closer to the ultimate goal and that’s to win the state championship. I feel like this team, this year, can do it.
“With what we have coming up through the middle school ranks and sub-varsity, I feel like he’s building a monster here, I really do.”
“I was his receivers coach in college and he was an All-American baseball player and an All-American receiver on the football team as well,” Griedl said. “He’s a guy who does everything right. He’s a ‘yes sir’ kind of guy. He always brings his opinion to the table in a respectful manner and does it the right way. He’s going to be outstanding with our kids. He’s a good coach and our kids are going to respond to him and they already have. When you have it, you can’t hide it and he has that ‘it’ factor. He’s no doubt going to make us better.”