NEW CANAAN, Conn. – Noel Thomas Sr. faces a big challenge his first year as head coach of the St. Luke’s football team. But the Norwalk resident believes his squad is up to the job of matching or even improving last year’s one-loss season.
Thomas is beginning his first season after taking over for Ryan Brown earlier this year. St. Luke’s went 6-1 last season, with one game wiped out because of weather. Several key players return, including UConn-bound Noel Thomas Jr., the coach’s son, quarterback Charlie Nelson and running back Myles Gaines.
Thomas has instituted a spread offense, which should make the Storm an exciting team to watch.
“I expect them to work hard and have fun,’’ Thomas Sr. said. “If we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to have a very good year.”
St. Luke’s opens its season Saturday at Cardinal Spellman in New York. It will be the first game as a high school head coach Thomas, who has been an assistant at St. Luke’s for two years. He also previously coached at Norwalk High under Pete Tucci and was head coach of the Norwalk Jaguar team that reached the Pop Warner national championship game in 2004. He spent seven years coaching youth football in Norwalk.
“I was surprised when they offered me the position,’’ Thomas said. “I thought they might get somebody with a little bit more experience. I’m committed to these players. I’m excited for these guys and what we can do this season.”
St. Luke’s has emerged over the last two seasons as one of the top teams in the Fairchester Athletic Association, finishing a combined 12-3 under Brown in 2010-2011. Thomas’ son rushed for 1,062 yards and 11 touchdowns last year, while Gaines ran for 503 yards and six TDs. Thomas Jr. will switch to wide receiver this year, the position he will play in college.
Nelson directs the attack for the second straight year. “He’s definitely matured,’’ Thomas said. “His confidence is up. For us to succeed, he has to lead the way. I think he can do it.”
Perhaps the key game for St. Luke’s comes Oct. 13 at home vs. Rye Country Day. That team handed St. Luke’s its only loss last year.
“The biggest thing for us we’re thin [29 players],’’ Thomas said. “We’re pretty strong in all areas. If we can stay healthy, we have a shot to have a good season.”