By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
Mike Thomas couldn’t pass up a chance to play closer to home.
The 1994 Clovis graduate signed to play nose guard and center for the Amarillo Dusters in the Arena Football League 2.
“I miss everyone down there and hopefully the people of Clovis will come watch us play,” Thomas said.
“We’re looking forward to getting him closer to home,” said Duster head coach Don Carthel, who was the Eastern New Mexico head coach from 1985 to 1991.
“He’s a hard-nose player, a good two-way player,” Carthel said of the 6-foot-2, 315-pound Thomas. “We jumped all over him.”
Carthel especially valued Thomas’ experience and ability to play offense and defense in a game played in arenas on 50-yard fields with only 16 players on the field at any time, as opposed to the normal 22.
In their first year, the Dusters won the Texas-based Intense Football League, but players didn’t have to play on both sides of the ball. The Dusters moved up to AFL2 for their second season, where playing both sides is required.
Thomas has played for the AFL’s Grand Rapids Rampage, AFL2’s defunct Charleston Swamp Foxes and then the National Indoor Football League’s Utah Warriors two years ago.
Thomas said he would have played in Amarillo last year, but had already signed with a Colorado arena team that folded part-way into the season.
Before indoor football, Thomas had a tryout with the New England Patriots after graduating from the University of Utah, where he earned honorable mention and second team All-Western Athletic Conference honors. Thomas also spent two years at the New Mexico Military Institute.
Thomas said there’s only one difference between the AFL and AFL2.
“Just the money, that’s it,” Thomas said.
Carthel said Duster players receive room, board and $200 for each game, with a $50 dollar bonus for winning.
“We plan on making $250 every week,” Carthel said.
Thomas said he has the support of his job at a retail store and of his family, which he’ll leave in Colorado.
His wife, Heidi, and two kids, Michael and Hailey, will stay home in the Denver suburb of Parker. Thomas said Heidi supports his football playing because she knows how much it means to him. He does plan on utilizing the Denver to Amarillo plane route so the family can come to see him play.
“This is my other side of my life,” Thomas said of football. “I’m always going to play football until my body gives out.”
Training camp begins March 17 with the Dusters opening their season April 1 at home against Tulsa.