Bentley Thomas (left) uses his wheels to escape a Windsor Duke defender during last fall’s provincial semi-final at B.C. Place Stadium. ERIC J. WELSH/ THE PROGRESS

GW Graham football grad commits to St. Francis Xavier

A QB with the Grizzlies, Bentley Thomas will make the leap to U-Sports football at defensive back.

Bentley Thomas is going to be a member of the X-Men.

Not the kind where people shoot power beams out of their sunglasses and have adamantium skeletons and claws in their hands, although we can’t say for sure Thomas has never used telekenetic powers to levitate Jake Troyan across a room.

No, Thomas is going to St. Francis Xavier University next fall to join the football X-Men.

The soon-to-be Grizzly grad went from football free agent to St. FX commit in the blink of an eye.

“I first heard from them about a week ago,” Thomas said. “They got in contact with one of my coaches and then their defensive coordinator contacted me about possibly playing safety or halfback for them.

“I just immediately knew that was the school for me.”

Thomas played quarterback for the Grizzlies last year, mostly out of necessity. With Gabe Olivares graduating and moving on to the UBC Thunderbirds, GWG had no natual signal callers on the roster.

Thomas, a team-first guy with the athletic ability to get the job done, moved into the role and helped the team advance as far as a provincial semi-final before a loss to Windsor ended the season.

Thomas struggled in the passing game, but his athleticism made him a dangerous threat on designed runs and scrambles. That athleticism is what caught the eyes of the St. FX coaches, who believe he can transition to the other side of the ball.

“I’m so excited because DB is my natural position and I’m so excited to play it,” Thomas said. “I played outside linebacker last year and practiced a lot at defensive back, but because I was quarterback I didn’t get a lot of time on defence.

“All my life until last year I’ve been a defensive player and I just love hitting people.”

On those occasions when Thomas did get on the field on defence, he was good for the Grizz.

He was solid in coverage and even got his first career interception.

Thomas thought he’d be playing community or junior football for at least another year or two and didn’t expect a U-Sports team to come calling. Defensive coordinator Jonathan Svec was the first St. FX coach to make contact.

“He’s an amazing person who is really professional and really kind,” Thomas said. “He helped me through the process in the beginning.

“He really made me feel confident in myself that I can play defence again.”

Head coach Gary Waterman was next to reach out.

“You can tell by the tone of voice that he loves the sport and loves all of his players,” Thomas said. “He wants the best for each one of them and he’ll do anything to make their football dreams come true.”

If Thomas ends up playing special teams, he’ll have an interesting coach guiding him.Jim Daley is the St. FX special teams coordinator. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s been a head coach in the Canadian Football League, where he guided the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the 1997 Grey Cup game.

Daley can show Thomas a Grey Cup ring earned as an assistant coach in Calgary in 2001.

Bentley will also have one familiar face when he moves all the way to Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

Former Grizzly DB/receiver Ethan Mastin is heading into his second season with the X-Men.

Mastin didn’t see any action as a freshman, but he talked to Thomas and spoke highly of the St. FX experience.

“It’s far from home, but I’ll do anything to chase my dream of playing college football,” Thomas said. “Whether I stayed in B.C. or went to Regina or Nova Scotia or wherever, I knew I’d be doing something I love.”

If you look at the X-Men roster online, it is huge.

There are currently 87 players listed at goxgo.ca/sports/fball/2017-18/roster

Thomas has lots of competition.

“I think my heart will separate me from other players because no one wants it as badly as I do,” he said. “I’m willing to do absolutely anything to make the X-Men as good as they can be.”

GWG coach Laurie Smith has no doubt Thomas will eventually be a solid player at St. FX.

“Bentley is as close to the standard of ‘coachable’ and ‘team player’ that you can get.” Smith said. “He is willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win, and does not complain or grumble about it.

“Bentley would have been our best defensive back or receiver (last season) but instead found himself converted to QB. He did the very best he could, despite being new to the position, because it was in the best interests of the team.

“St. FX is very fortunate to get a great student athlete like Bentley.”

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