Sometimes being the little brother has its perks.
Thanks to his older brother, Jerome, who played safety on the same Northwestern High teams as Teddy Bridgewater, Miami Central quarterback Jerrod Thomas has gotten to watch and learn from one of the best passers ever to come out of South Florida.
Better yet, he's even got the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback on speed dial.
“The last time I spoke to Teddy was about two weeks ago before the Carol City game,” Thomas said Tuesday during practice as the Rockets (10-2) prepared to host Naples (12-1) on Friday night at Traz Powell Stadium in a Class 6A state semifinal.
“I asked him, ‘How do you mentally go into a playoff season being the most hated team and also not having a good year?’ The main thing he said that stood out was, ‘Even though they may not like you, just make sure they remember you.’
“I just took that as it’s time for us to roll now. Everybody is always talking about our defense. Now it’s time to show them who we are.”
Central’s offense may not have been much of a force during the first half of the season. But the Rockets have been coming on strong of late. And Thomas is at the center of it all.
After struggling (8 of 22 for 59 yards, one touchdown , one interception) in a 38-14 season-opening loss at DeMatha (Maryland) Catholic and losing his starting job to sophomore Tijuane Morten, Thomas has bounced back strong over Central’s six-game winning streak.
He’s completed 56 percent of his last 111 attempts for 981 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions — vastly better than his first six games when he completed 49 percent of his passes for 355 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. More importantly, coach Roland Smith said, he’s earned back the confidence of his coaches and teammates.
“We’re back to playing Rockets football again in large part because of the way Jerrod has played,” Smith said of his offense, which posted 24.1 points per game in a 4-2 start and is now averaging 33.1 a game over its last six.
“I think in the early part of the year he probably put a lot of pressure on himself to step up and be the man instead of letting the offense go through him and trusting the system.”
With savvy veterans and leaders around him, Thomas (6-2, 185) did that last year when he guided Central in his first year as the starting quarterback to its third consecutive Class 6A state championship and fourth in five years.
But this year, when the season began, Thomas, 6-5, 340-pound junior offensive tackle Nevaughn Donaldson (University of Miami commitment) and 6-2, 310-pound junior guard Marshawn Miller were the only returning starters on offense. Thomas said he also had to deal with a much heavier workload in the classroom as a student at nearby Turner Tech.
“Things started off kind of rough and it wasn’t just out here,” said Thomas. “As the season got going, I learned when to put football to the side and focus on school work and when it was time to put my focus back on football.”
Those phone calls and text message exchanges with Bridgewater, he said, also helped.
Winning back-to-back state titles isn’t something common for starting quarterbacks in South Florida. But it has happened a few times in recent years: Northwestern’s Jacory Harris (2006-07), St. Thomas Aquinas’ Ryan Becker (2007-08), Booker T. Washington’s Treon Harris (2012-13) and American Heritage’s Torrance Gibson (2013-14).
Thomas, the backup to Keith Reed in the 2013 state title season, knows he’s got a shot to join an elite club, while also making up for becoming the first Central team in six years not to win the district title.
“When we lost to Carol City [on Oct. 1] it was like somebody stabbed us and let us bleed out,” said Thomas, who will likely receive his first college offer from an undisclosed Football Championship Subdivision school later this week, according to Smith.
“It’s like somebody came into our house and took our TV. Now, it’s all about going to get our TV back.”
FRIDAY’S STATE SEMIFINALS
Class 8A: Flanagan vs. Columbus, 7:30 (Tropical Park).
Class 7A: St. Thomas Aquinas at Bradenton Braden River, 7:30.
Class 6A: Naples vs. Miami Central, 7:30 (Traz Powell Stadium).
SATURDAY’S STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
Class 4A: Booker T. Washington vs. Jacksonville Raines, 7 (Citrus Bowl, Orlando).