For eight nostalgic septuagenarians, reunited members of the first All-America lacrosse team of half a century ago, it was yesterday again. Enduring the rain and cold at ancient Homewood Field in Baltimore, they saw Johns Hopkins, the Ming of lacrosse dynasties, in its old, formidable form. And foremost on the field was a slender sophomore superstar who is a bit of a septuagenarian himself.
Jut-jawed, blue-eyed, blond-haired Jack (as in Armstrong) Thomas is a gentlemanly exception on a team far more physical than any of the 23 previous Hopkins national champions. This probably has to do with the unusually large number of rugged out-of-state imports, and it means that Hopkins now can add injury to insult. The result is the same familiar one, however, and all the more welcome at Homewood following last year's 3-7 record, most defeats in one season in the school's history. Last week as Thomas, the nation's leading scorer, put in two goals, fed for three others and left his opposing defenseman throwing down his stick in disgust and frustration (left), Johns Hopkins overwhelmed Army 13-5 for its eighth win without a defeat. The domination was quickly evident as the first-half score mounted to 8-2, sending the regular Army goalie to permanent safety on the sideline. Clearly, Hopkins and unbeaten Maryland, who conclude the regular season with a face-off on May 13, are the top candidates for the NCAA title.
Earlier in the week Coach Bob Scott viewed the Army game as an important indicator of his young team's worth despite its recent defeat of then top-ranked Virginia 13-8. "I want to see if we can control a game from the start and finish with an impressive win," he said. "That would be very significant. I don't think we have the best overall talent in the country but maybe we have it all going together now."
Jack Thomas has been in high gear since the season began, in a manner which suggests the best that collegiate lacrosse can offer. He is the product of a lacrosse background in the only part of the nation where such a curiosity can exist. One might believe that it was all thrust upon him were it not for the fact that he accepted the game almost religiously. His father, Bill, an ultrasuccessful high school coach at Towson in Baltimore County, raised his sons to attend college through lacrosse. All have. First Bill Jr., who now captains his club team, went to Maryland and then Mike, the nation's leading scorer last year at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, graduated to become a prep school coach.
Of the three, Jack is considered by neutral observers to be the best, although it remains a matter of understandable dispute at home. He has lost only three games since the seventh grade and set scoring records at every level.
Unlike his brothers, Jack was developed exclusively by his father. "I never wanted to coach one of my own sons until Jack came along," he says. "I took over the junior varsity when Bill and Mike were at Towson. But with Jack it was different. Everyone knew how good he was, so there couldn't be such a thing as favoritism."
Thomas had always preferred nearby Johns Hopkins and he brought with him All-America recognition in football as well as lacrosse. Despite his size, 5'10", 165 pounds—perfect for lacrosse, small for collegiate football—he has played both at the quiet, scholarly institution where the mood suits his personal manner.
Football Coach Dennis Cox watched Jack quarterback Hopkins to a 6-3 record and lead the Mid-Atlantic Conference in scoring and decided that although Thomas "is not the world's greatest athlete, he does get the maximum out of what he has. More than anything he's an intelligent kid who performs best in crucial situations and never panics."
Thomas' lacrosse skills make him ideal for the Hopkins attack position that runs the offense. He is a fine stick handler who compensates for a lack of speed with quickness. Many of his points—32—have come on assists, but this is usual for his position. That he also has 24 goals, including a high of five against Princeton, indicates his extraordinary ability. Cutting and dodging around the net, he can hardly be contained, and when double-teamed he unerringly finds the open man. One statistic, which only a lacrosse fan can appreciate, tells a great deal. He leads the team in ground balls, meaning that when the ball is loose and everyone is lashing and digging to capture it, he is the one who emerges to keep Hopkins on the attack.
But Thomas is more than an exceptional athlete; he is an unusual young man. His whole life is devoted to a sport that, on the professional marketplace, will mean practically nothing. "Jack walks around in blinders," says Joe Cowan, an assistant coach and alltime Hopkins football and lacrosse star with whom Thomas is often compared. "He doesn't seem to care for anything but this game. What athlete doesn't party and mess around a little? I did, but not Jack. He takes a lot of kidding from the rest of the team but I know everyone respects him. He's a leader by deed, not words."
Jack prefers the company of the one and only girl he has ever dated, Liz Resau, to the bashes the lacrosse team throws at the Phi Gam fraternity house. Liz, Towson's homecoming queen one year, caught Jack when they were juniors—when his head was turned the other way.
"Liz understands Jack better than most girls would," says Mrs. Thomas, a kindly woman so infected by the lacrosse mania that envelops her household that her choir director duties go unattended in the spring. "He will never go out on a Friday before a game and she's content to sit at home. And he's such a traditionalist about everything. I gave him a pair of slightly flared pants for Christmas and he took them back because he thought they were too mod. He makes a point of being independent. His room stays in an incredible mess all the time but his sister Debbie says I shouldn't complain. She was a psychology major and she thinks that's just his way of expressing himself."
Thomas realizes, without really caring, that his life, however ordered, is nevertheless one-dimensional. "Sometimes while I'm walking around this campus and I see people with a load of books I wonder if I really belong here. We Thomases just go to school to play lacrosse and then to coach. It's like a religion. I'm not interested in anything else. I don't follow what's going on. When I registered to vote I didn't know if I was a Republican or a Democrat so I put down Independent. It fits, I guess."
On the dining room table in Jack's home, from where he commutes daily, there are 10 salt shakers, used by the Thomases to diagram plays. The one with the red top designates the player with the ball, forever on the attack, sliding silently across the table with the single-minded objective of scoring. That one is Jack Thomas.