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Rookie defensive lineman Jake Thomas making big impact with Bombers

07/27/2012 05:43 EDT | Updated 09/26/2012 05:12 EDT
He knew how the film would end, but Jake Thomas still couldn't believe he had a starring role in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' first win of the season.

It was the rookie defensive tackle's crucial forced fumble that cemented Winnipeg's 23-22 home win over the Edmonton Eskimos on Thursday night. After four straight losses, Thomas and his teammates finally had something to smile about Friday as they watched the game film.

And the six-foot-two, 266-pound Thomas had to pinch himself as he watched his game-deciding play for the first time.

"I'm still in shock,'' Thomas said from Winnipeg. "Seeing it for the first time was pretty surreal.

"It was just a very personally proud moment for myself. Every week I've just tried to get better and better and to finally be able to contribute with a big play like that for this team is huge."

Edmonton seemed poised for the comeback win when quarterback Steven Jyles took the snap at the Winnipeg 41-yard line with 50 seconds remaining. Jyles took off on a 13-yard run but was caught by Thomas, who forced the fumble that Bombers' defensive back Jovon Johnson recovered to clinch the victory.

It was a redemption of sorts for Thomas, who was called for unnecessary roughness in the second quarter to negate a 24-yard kickoff return by Demond Washington. Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice wasn't sure if Thomas would be fined for the penalty but praised the rookie for his timely forced fumble.

"It was an effort play," LaPolice said. "He was on the backside of it, turned around and sprinted to the ball.

"We talked a lot about sprinting to the ball last week."

Winnipeg is certainly getting bang for its buck with Thomas, who was taken in the fourth round of the 2012 CFL draft. The former Acadia star is not only contributing on special teams but also seeing spot duty on defence.

Thomas, 22, of Douglas, N.B., made his first career start Thursday after defensive tackle Brandon Collier suffered a shoulder injury in Winnipeg's 25-22 road loss to Toronto on July 18. And with Collier's ailment considered longterm, Thomas and fellow CFL rookie lineman J.T. Gilmore are expected to continue rotating in at tackle.

"I had been getting 20-30 reps the last few games and I knew J.T. and I were going to split time so I took it (game against Edmonton) like any other," Thomas said. "But coming out of the tunnel (at Canad Inns Stadium) and hearing almost 30,000 people screaming was quite an experience."

Thomas made life miserable for quarterbacks while at Acadia, registering nine sacks in eight games his final season there. A two-time AUS all-star, Thomas was named a second team CIS all-Canadian in 2011 and also played for the national squad that finished second at the IFAF World Championship in Austria.

Predictably, Thomas found the jump to the CFL to be a challenging one. He headed into Winnipeg's camp hoping to be among the 53 players (46 on roster, seven on the practice roster) to start the season with the Bombers.

"In training camp, the first couple of days was an eye-opener," he said. "It was a huge shock but once you get used to taking reps you sort of get used to it.

"The past few weeks the game has started to slow down a bit and I feel I'm starting to fit in comfortably ... but to actually be able to play and live out my childhood dream has been crazy."

Surprisingly, Thomas's toughest adjustment to CFL life has come away from the football field.

"It has been the travel," he said. "Starting the year with four road games I'm not really used to that because playing in the AUS we'd drive to all our games and our furthest trip was four, five hours unless we had to play in Quebec.

"I've had to get used to travelling and living in hotels."

Making football the focal point of his life, Thomas, said, has actually been easy.

"I love football so I just eat it up," he said. "I love being around the stadium, watching film and trying to pick guys' brains looking to get better.

"It's definitely a different experience just focusing on football but when I leave the stadium I try to get football out of my mind for a bit and find new activities to do."

Like many 22 year olds, Thomas finds solace in video games. And living near a mall in Winnipeg gives Thomas close access to a movie theatre and a new type of game — five-pin bowling.

"I was shocked, it was my first-ever time playing that game," he said with a chuckle. "I was, 'What is this?'

"But it's all good.''

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