Malcolm Thomas thinks of his football jersey often and embraces it as if it’s a newborn puppy.
Wear it with pride, the Woodcreek High School senior wide receiver explained in general terms this week, because nothing droops more sadly than beleaguered colors for a struggling football program.
The Timberwolves of Roseville can relate to misery and mediocrity, having hovered in the considerable shadows of esteemed rivals in Placer County for many years. That soon may change.
With Thomas electrifying on two touchdown strikes from Isaiah Harborth and a once-battered defense holding strong in an equally electric atmosphere, the upstart No. 14 Timberwolves defeated No. 20 Ponderosa 28-14 in a nonleague finale Friday night.
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The halftime homecoming festivities included creative skits and floats, followed by a fireworks show. Thomas alone generates fireworks as one of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top talents.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior known for his skills as much as his humility was the fastest man on the field as evidenced by his ability to pull away like a jet on those scores, and he had a back-breaking 65-yard kickoff return as if running downhill for a 28-7 lead as the Timberwolves moved to 4-0 for the first time. Harborth passed for 211 yards, 150 to Thomas.
“I’m not ashamed to wear my jersey like other years,” Thomas said.
“People are excited here, really excited, and you hear it everywhere on campus from teachers and other students. That hasn’t happened before. People say, ‘Hey, you’re unbeaten! What’s going on?’ ”
What’s going on is more of a rebirth than a revival. In the 20-year history of the school, the varsity Timberwolves have flirted with breakthroughs, only to be crushed in the end. They have fielded five 5-5 teams and one 6-6 outfit. This shapes up to be the progarm’s first winning season, thanks largely to the tireless efforts of coaching brothers Jason and Kyle Stowers, in their second season.
Having worked previously as assistant coaches at Colfax and Del Oro in football-mad communities, the brothers know well what a successful team can do to a fan base and how it can energize a campus. Woodcreek already has surpassed its three wins of last season, when the team hemorrhaged touchdowns and morale wavered.
“It was the worst year in coaching for us,” Jason Stowers said. “After every game, we were dealing with parents and fans. It’s a really negative culture when you lose. But we just stayed the course. We started 15 juniors last year and grew and got better. It’s been terrific, but we’re humble about it.”
That growth was partly the result of rigorous offseason weight training. The linemen are bigger, stronger, more confident. The skill players, too.
And the Timberwolves need that added muscle and good will entering a challenging, if not brutal, Sierra Foothill League schedule featuring six ranked teams, including top-ranked Folsom, No. 3 Oak Ridge, No. 5 Granite Bay, No. 6 Rocklin and No. 7 Del Oro. Woodcreek’s lone SFL victory last season was against winless Nevada Union, now 3-1 and ranked 18th.
“The biggest difference for us is we’re stronger up front on the line,” Jason Stowers said. “We got train-wrecked on the lines in the SFL. We put the heart of our program in the line because last year, we didn’t have a chance. Now we do. We can get better. We’re still making a lot of mistakes.”
That line has been anchored by Brian Lee and Dominic Balmer, and they set an immediate tone to open the second half in blowing open holes for tailback Anthony Mahr, whose 3-yard touchdown run gave Woodcreek a 21-7 lead. Mahr had 168 rushing yards. Thomas, Lenny Nelson and company played strong defense against Ponderosa standout wide receiver Josh Bist, who still managed to make some amazing catches for 152 receiving yards but was kept out of the end zone.
“You can see we’re all bigger, and even I’m bigger and stronger,” Thomas said. “I grew two inches and added 25 pounds. We’re all better.”
The one constant for Woodcreek over the years has been the passionate student following, aptly named “The Black Mob” for a sea of students donning black shirts, black face paint, black headbands, black anything.
Few rooting sections in California match Woodcreek’s, and the same goes for the 100-member band that also was on top of its game under director Brad North. The Woodcreek junior varsity and freshman teams are a combined 6-1.
Said Woodcreek athletic director Lori Ann Donnell before the game as she zipped across the grounds on a golf cart, “It’s been a great start.”
Editor's note: This story has updated to correct the name of "The Black Mob."