Kirtland Central's Zakk Thomas named Daily-Times football player of the year
KIRTLAND — When a new coach comes into a program, there's likely to be changes.
That was definitely the concern of Kirtland Central senior running back Zakk Thomas, who was entering his final season with a new head coach that neither he nor his teammates knew much about coming into this past summer.
First-year head coach Jeff Schaum saw the talent right away, utilized it as best he could and the results have been quite good.
Thomas, with more than 1500 yards on the ground and 22 touchdowns, led the Broncos into the Class 4A state football playoffs and has been rewarded with being named the Daily Times football player of the season.
"From the beginning, I always saw him as one of those quintessential quiet leaders. That's what drew me to him early on," said Schaum about Thomas. "He's a kid that's going to lead by example."
In addition to finishing fourth in the state with 1537 rushing yards, Thomas also contributed as a pass catcher, kickoff and punt returner and also as a middle linebacker, a position from which he recorded 67 tackles, second-most on the team.
Thomas' 22 touchdowns put him in 12th place overall among the state's leading scorers. He scored eight of those touchdowns in one game, becoming only the sixth player in New Mexico history to score eight or more times in a game when he rushed for seven touchdowns and and returned a kickoff for a score in a 63-34 victory on Sept. 3 at Taos.
"I fumbled the ball away the first time I touched it," Thomas recalled. "I was tired and hungry coming into the game and wasn't sure how I'd play. But then we started scoring and I felt better and it was a good feeling after that."
Perhaps the biggest game for Thomas in his senior year came last month at home against Aztec, in which he scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime leading the Broncos to a 20-14 win over the Tigers.
"They'd been bottling me up pretty much all night in that game," Thomas said of Aztec's defense after the win. "Our line held tough through everything they did."
Thomas didn't get these results on his own, however, and he was quick to thank those around him.
"The line always did a good job opening up holes for me," Thomas said. "And even when defenses started to stack up on me, we had a plan to pass the ball to the outside, so we had good players to do that."
Thomas took advantage of the coaching style that Schaum brought to Kirtland Central. Replacing Greg Jenks, Schaum was brought in from Newcomb after one season on the sidelines there. Schaum previously coached in Florida, where he had success at Jefferson County and Lakeland Victory Christian Schools.
Prior to that, Schaum worked the sidelines as a graduate assistant at Florida State University, learning from Bobby Bowden, considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.
"A new coach comes in and you're not sure what you're going to get," Thomas said. "But when we saw what kind of formations he was teaching us and the agenda he was setting, we took it from there."
Thomas, who will hit the wrestling mat this season for the Broncos before deciding on which college or university he'll be attending next year, played his last football game for the Broncos earlier this month. Kirtland Central finished the season with the regular season with of 5-5 and in second place behind Bloomfield in District 1-4A before being eliminated in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs, losing 40-9 to Silver City.
In that loss, Thomas was limited to only 42 yards on 16 carries.
"The season could have been better, but I liked it as a senior," Thomas said. "I'd have liked to have better statistics later in the season but I'm happy with the work we did."
Thomas hasn't decided on where his collegiate journey will take him, but he does have multiple offers and is currently exploring his options.
"There's a few places that have expressed interest, some around the area and some others around the country," Schaum said of Taylor's potential landing spots at the next level. "It all comes down to recruiting and him wanting a degree in engineering."
Thomas, who has played on the varsity football team all four seasons, took off as a top-flight running back during the abbreviated season last spring, showing off his talents during a five-game season in which he led the Broncos offense to a 3-2 record.
Receiving honorable mention for Daily Times football player of the season were Navajo Prep's Dontrelle Denetso, Farmington's Brandon Furbee and Bloomfield's Diego Snell-Martinez.
For more information about Zakk Thomas and his athletic achievements at Kirtland Central High School, check out his official MaxPreps webpage.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.