Orange County Prep Player of the Week : Finishing What He Starts With Flourish

Tom and Karen Thomason had one rule for their three children when it came to sports: If you started a sport, you had to stick with it. No ifs or buts about it.

It was a rule Jeff Thomason, a junior at Corona del Mar High School, took to heart at a very young age.

Thomason, The Times' Player of the Week, won the 50- (21.15 seconds) and 100-yard (46.40) freestyle races and swam butterfly on the Sea Kings' third-place medley relay team at the Southern Section 4-A championships Friday at Belmont Plaza pool in Long Beach. In Thursday's preliminaries, Thomason set a school record in the 50-yard free with a time of 21.12, breaking the 21.3 set by Eric Vinje in 1986.

Despite his record-breaking performance and the fact that he became the first swimmer at Corona del Mar to win two individual 4-A titles in one season, Thomason had something else on his mind at meet's end--football season. Thomason plays tight end and offensive lineman for the Sea Kings.

It has been this way for Thomason since he was 8, when he decided to play Pop Warner football in between his age-group swim competitions.

His parents warned him that his enthusiasm for football better not be a whim. They weren't going to spend money on registration and equipment just to have him play a year and quit.

As in swimming, Thomason had immediate success in football, becoming one of the best players on his team his first year. He said he liked the intense competition on the field, the way it felt to break away for a touchdown and the camaraderie with his teammates.

His parents thought he might give up swimming completely.

"His coach (Sherm Shavoor of Arden Hills Swim Club in Sacramento) had told him that he was a born swimmer," Karen Thomason said. "And that Jeff had a good chance of making it to the Olympics. Then Jeff started playing football and we wondered if he might choose that over swimming. He didn't, but a lot of people kept saying you can't mix the two. The muscles and movements are too opposite."

For Thomason, 6-feet 5-inches and 200 pounds (215 during football), the development of his muscles is a priority between the two seasons. In the fall, when quick bursts of speed and power become keys for success, Thomason lifts weights up to five days a week and does leg drills that improve his forward, backward and side-to-side movements.

"Basically, he needs to bulk up before football," said Dave Holland, Corona del Mar football coach. "He has to work on anaerobic conditioning and his thigh, hip and back strength. I've never had another (football player/swimmer), but Jeff mixes the two well enough."

Come spring, it's slim-down time. Thomason plops into the pool at 6:15 every morning and swims two to three hours.

"He went right back to the weight room (two days) after the finals," said Mike Starkweather, Sea King swim coach. "Playing football is OK by me, I guess, as long as we can stretch his muscles out in the pool by next year. And we do get him right back in the pool after football."

This swim season, Thomason won all but one race, losing to Paul Barrera in a dual meet with Tustin. Thomason, who Starkweather said is one of the most competitive swimmers he has coached, came back to defeat Barrera in their next two meetings.

"Next year, his goals are to break the (Southern Section) record in the 100," said Starkweather, referring to the 45.7 set last year by Eric Ford of Corona del Mar. "And to win two more titles. He's so competitive, I think he has a good chance."

Thomason, who would like to swim and play football in college, said he realizes many think the two are incompatible, but he'll retain his two-sport life style as long as he can.

"I love both the sports, really," Thomason said. "In football, I like the competitiveness and the contact and the team feeling. But in swimming, I think my chances are better--I can go farther with it."

And, based on 30 or so letters their son has received from college coaches of both sports, it appears Tom and Karen Thomason can rest easy. Neither sport was a whim.

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