The senior rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, as the Golden Eagles won 54-19 over Pleasant Valley.
Most importantly, he felt fine. In fact, he was better than fine.
“I felt great,” he said.
That’s a big deal for Thomas, who suffered not one, but two season-ending injuries last year – one in football and another in basketball. Both times it was the left ankle.
A star running back, Thomas got hurt during the ninth game of last season, after he had gained more than 1,400 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. In a game against Alexandria, Thomas got hurt in the second quarter, although he didn’t realize how bad it was.
“I actually didn’t know I was hurt when I first went down,” Thomas said. “I hopped back up and tried to run to the sideline, but I just collapsed. It was like my entire leg gave out.”
He went to the emergency room that night for X-rays and found out the following morning he had a high ankle sprain.
“Once we got the diagnosis from our team doctors and all, we knew his season was over,” Jacksonville coach Clint Smith said. “A high ankle sprain is tough to come back from once you have one, especially late in the year. We figured he’d have a tough time coming back before the season was over.
“It was tough on him. He carried the ball a lot for us and stayed healthy, so to have that, of course it hurt him.”
Thomas bounced back quickly enough that he missed only the first two weeks of basketball season. After contributing for more than a month, the season went south for Thomas. Once again, it happened against Alexandria.
In early January, he went up for a layup, coming down on an opponents’ ankle.
“I knew I re-injured it then,” Thomas said. “I pretty much pushed myself and I shouldn’t have. I came back too early and it ended up costing me.”
Smith said Thomas “kind of had to over from square one again” after he sat out the remainder of the basketball season. When spring football practice rolled around in May, Thomas was still recovering. However, during the healing process, Thomas continued lifting weights and working out with the team.
“Dominique is a big, strong kid so of course his body and muscles are strong,” Smith said. “When you’re in the weight room, lifting and conditioning like we do it helps you come back from injuries quicker than if you weren’t physically in good shape.”
But it took Thomas a while to get back in the same shape he was before the injuries. He said it wasn’t until he attended a camp at Appalachian State in early June that he felt like himself again.
“Every day over the summer I asked coach to come up here and unlock the gym so I could work out,” he said. “Also, we have this thing called the Champions’ Run that starts behind the gym, goes up the road by the practice field, through the airport, around the baseball field, down the trail back there and then back to the school. I did that every day with a few friends.”
The Champions’ Run spans five kilometers, which helped him get ready for that big opening performance against Pleasant Valley.
Jacksonville will travel to Hokes Bluff this week to begin Class 4A, Region 5 play, and Smith said his running back should only get better as the season goes on.
“The thing about Dominique is usually as the game goes on, he gets stronger,” he said. “He’s a big, physical back that has speed and a lot of people don’t give him credit for his speed because he’s so big. They’ll take wrong angles on him and he ends up outrunning them.
“Dominique can be as good as he wants to be.”
Thomas has individual goals, including topping his statistics from a year ago. But knowing first-hand how an injury can put him on the sideline at any moment, he said he isn’t going to push himself too hard to reach individual numbers, saying he’s “just going to let things happen.”
Instead, he is thinking about what his team might accomplish as it aims for its first state playoff berth since 2009.
“We just have to work together,” Thomas said. “When we face adversity, we have to make sure we don’t bicker with each other and we need to stay a team. We’ve been together for a while and we’re close. Our region is already unpredictable, but if we play like we’re supposed to then we can be good.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star