It’s been two months since Mountain Pointe High School Track and Field Coach Larry Thomas passed away from brain cancer, catching the school and south Phoenix community off guard.
Thomas had experienced headaches in April. He was rushed to the hospital on May 2 and underwent emergency surgery to remove 80 percent of the tumor doctors found in his brain. A month later, the tumor returned.
Thomas passed away on June 12 at 46 years old.
“It happened so fast,” said Jay Carter, a longtime friend, head coach of the Mountain Pointe freshman football team and assistant track coach under Thomas.
“At state prelims he was there and I actually drove with him and his daughter. Everything seemed fine, we just laughed.”
Thomas’ death still weighs heavy on those whose lives he impacted both on the track and football field. It is especially hard on his family and the coaching staff he had assembled around him in what was supposed to be his first season leading Mountain Pointe’s freshman football team.
“It’s tough, we haven’t coached together for at least 6 years so this was supposed to be our own little reunion,” said JoJo Taylor, Thomas’ brother and defensive coordinator for the freshman team.
“I wouldn’t have even gotten into coaching if it wasn’t for him. He was everything to me.”
Thomas and Taylor shared an incredible bond, one that is common among everyone that comes into Thomas’ life. He always saw the good in everyone, especially kids.
After serving in the military, Thomas began working in corrections. He saw the impact flag football had on the lives of the kids who were incarcerated. He wanted to do the same for the kids of south Phoenix, but wanted to empower them before they potentially went down the wrong path.
As a result, he and a group of parents created the Arizona Saints in 2007, a youth football organization based in Laveen. He was determined to establish a staff of coaches that would truly make a difference in the lives of the youth in the league.
Former NFL players jumped on board, including Desert Vista alum Bobby Wade, as well as first responders from all over the Phoenix area. As more and more kids flooded the league, numerous age divisions were created.
The Saints turned into one of the best youth programs in the state, all because of Thomas’ vision to help the youth. That same vision carried over to his time at Mountain Pointe. Like he did with the Saints, he wanted to bring together a staff that had a track record of helping kids, as well as ties to the school.
“We all have a connection to Mountain Pointe or a connection to my brother,” Taylor said. “We all have one goal and that’s to see this program succeed and do well in his honor.”
Taylor attended Mountain Pointe as a freshman. Carter is part of the first-ever graduating class at Mountain Pointe in 1995. Kory Fuller, who took over the Saints organization for Thomas, was also brought onto his staff.
“I have a son here at Mountain Pointe that plays JV and was going to run track so when I heard Larry was coming over, I asked if I could come coach with him on freshman,” Fuller said.
“I just wanted to be an assistant to come out and help. He brought me on and I’m thankful for that.”
Thomas also brought on Michael Blount, a friend of Taylor’s who coached one of the Saints’ teams, was also brought in as an assistant. Kevin Martin, who graduated with Carter in 1995, also joined the staff.
In 2018, Martin was inducted into Mountain Pointe’s Hall of Fame. To him, it is an honor to come back to the school he dearly loves, and it means even more to do it in Thomas’ honor.
“It’s an honor and a privilege,” Martin said. “Everything (Thomas) touched turned to gold. Just to be able to come here and continue building something that he starter, it’s exciting.”
After Thomas passed, Carter stepped up to become the head coach of the freshman team. As a result, Fuller stepped into a coordinator role. In their mind, it was the best way to honor their friend.
As the first day of helmets for the freshmen team wrapped up, each coach offered words of encouragement. Several of the messages revolved around not giving up, and continuously pushing themselves to achieve their goals.
Thomas shared that same ideology with the kids he coached, whether it be in the Saints organization or at Mountain Pointe during track season. He never had a chance to directly make an impact on the lives of his freshman players, but the coaching staff he assembled has vowed to do that for him.
“I could see the passion (Thomas) had for developing these kids,” Blount said. “Just his mission to guide these kids to become better men, teach them responsibilities and grow, I was sold.”
The entire staff plans to share Thomas’ story with the team. They want to emphasize all the good he did for kids their age. Decals for the player’s helmets will likely be made in his honor.
Carter admits he can feel Thomas’ presence on a daily basis. Whether they are teaching or laughing during a water break, he knows his friend is there with them.
“It’s still tough whenever I look out on the track,” Carter said. “I still think about him all the time. But him giving me the opportunity to be here, at my alma mater, he set this up so I know it’s the place I’m meant to be.”
All of the coaches plan to carry on Thomas’ legacy of helping the kids and the Pride football program grow. He wanted it to succeed, and they will stop at nothing to see his vision through.
“My brother’s philosophy was always ‘coach them hard but love them harder,’” Taylor said. “Of course we want to win, but I’m not going to judge or season on wins and losses. I’m going to judge it off of how many of these kids we help become good men.
“We want to teach them how to become good human-beings and to never quit. Just like my brother.”