Alek Thomas: Playing Through Pressure

Feb 10, 2017 7:17 PM
Dan Napper, Correspondent

Alek Thomas commits to Texas Christian University!

Alek at the 2105 New Balance Area Code Underclass Games

When you reach a point in life, around say the age of 18, you have to make a decision that can be very daunting and intimidating. High school comes to a close and you have to finally realize what you are going to do with your life. Are you off to college, junior college, the work force, military, or perhaps a trade school. What happens though when you are a highly sought after high school athlete who has a decision to make well before most kids.

If you happen to be Alek Thomas that decision comes much sooner than millions of high school students around the country.  Because if you happen to be Alek Thomas you are three sport star at Mt. Carmel in Chicago who also happens to be an outstanding student at the same time.  So how do you balance the true meaning of being a student athlete?

“It’s rough, but you have to have good time management. You have to have your schedule together.  You have to learn how to balance out the morning workouts, with the school, and homework is pretty tough.  You gotta be mentality strong to play three sports and have honors and AP classes.”

In a day and age where most kids walk down a school hallway with their head buried in their phone, in the middle of a tweet, or taking another useless selfie to send to their friends, here is a young man who is balancing his AP coursework with playing three sports.  Some students cannot get out of bed without the help of their parents.  Yet Alek Thomas is up at 5 a.m. every other morning to get in his workouts, before heading to school.

“Ten laps in the morning just to get a run in. Then I have to set up for the workout at 5:30 and then get my leg day with weights and try to max out, then it is running to finish the workout. Then I’m off to school, then play basketball and then run ten suicides.”  Oh, and he finally gets to work on his AP Physics project after we finish the interview.

Leg day…after morning laps, basketball, and a full school day.  Plus, throw in your nightly homework for AP physics.  What kind of high school kid is able to balance all of that?

For Alek Thomas he would not have it any other way. “They are my dad’s workouts, so they are intense.”

Alek at the 2016 Area Code GamesAlek’s father, Allen Thomas, is the Director of Strength and Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and as Alek puts it, “when he is here we are working.  Even when he is not here, he is here, because everything is set up and I know what workouts I need to get in.”

His father provides motivation for Alek to continue working as hard as he does on a daily  basis.  “He didn’t make it to where he wanted to be, he got drafted late, played single A and high A, but then became a strength coach.  My dad was one of the hardest workers out there.  And I know when you are given an opportunity you have to make the most of it each and every day.”

It sounds cliché, but truly, is he wrong?  So many young athletes from around the country dream of making it to the big leagues, whether it be in baseball, football, or any other sport they love.  But, very few are able to balance the dedication it takes to be a superior student and excel on multiple fields of play at the same time.

“To tell you the truth, if I wasn’t playing during one of those three seasons, I’d probably be bored.”  Is there a better way to sum up the type A personality that is Alek Thomas?  “Each sport brings something different to the table.  Football being the quarterback you have to know everything that is happening all the time.  I have to know every play, check, read, be a leader.  Have to be a head stronger because a team can go through its ups and downs.”

“Basketball I am a point guard, shooting guard, and sometimes you have your best days, but you are still off.”

“Baseball I love being in centerfield and seeing everything happening in front of me. I love hitting, when you are down two runs, bases loaded with two outs. Just thinking through that and having that opportunity.”

Each sport brings a different mentality that has helped develop Alek Thomas into the leader and student athlete he is today.  When you speak to him you hear a maturity beyond that of a normal sixteen year old junior in high school.  You hear the wisdom of a seasoned veteran who knows the hours are long, but realizes that those long hours lead to the goal at the end of the season.

So what do you do when you are sixteen years old and have to make a decision that many kids two years older than you dread to make?  You approach it the same way Alek Thomas approaches everything, with a focused, driven, mature attitude.

“It is definitely a warmer atmosphere than Chicago, that’s for sure.”  He laughs as he begins to talk about his destination he will arrive at in the next two years.  Fort Worth, Texas is a long way from Chicago and if you have never stood downtown in January when the wind was whipping off the lake you truly do not understand how cold it can get.  “From the start TCU was on board with me playing both sports.  When I came to visit they were prepared to show me both aspects of what it would be like being a two sport athlete.  The coaches were the greatest of guys, just great all around guys, amazing equipment everywhere, facilities were amazing, campus was amazing.”

What should not be left out is the fact that each and every one of Alek’s finalists, along with TCU, are strong academic institutions, and something that Alek immediately goes to when speaking about TCU.  “Academically they are fantastic and I know they are going to push me to be on top of my grades every day, along with what I will be doing on the field.  I can’t thank my parents enough for pushing me to ensure that I understood how important my education is.”  Spoken like a kid years ahead of his time.  “They always said, someday sports will end."

“I love both sports equally, but I know where my future is and I know where it lies.  I’m glad my recruiting process if over, but I’m really looking forward to my end goals in 2018.  It is going to be a change, but I’m excited for the challenge.  This summer is going to be big for me to work even harder and get even better.”

He is sixteen years old.  One of the top recruits for both baseball and football in the country and he is motivated to be better.

“I’ve always liked competing and being that sort of underdog who surprises everyone.  When 2018 rolls around I’m going to be an 18 year old kid competing against 20 and 21 year old men who have been doing this for a while.  I’m going to have to work to get better if I plan on starting.  It is exciting to go out and compete against those kinds of guys.  I want to be where the best players are at.”

He summed it up really well in one line that I am going to steal and use for my freshman baseball players.  “Don’t mind them, do me.”

It is simplistic and to the point. But, it is very apt at this point. Alek knows what it will take to start at the next level and he embraces the challenge to earn that spot.  When it comes to the next level, I had to ask about a chance to someday come home and play for the White Sox.  “Any team that wants to take a chance on me is great. Just to hear my name called, that’s all I want. It would be cool to be back here with dad, but he has said it doesn’t need to happen.  I would just love an opportunity.”  Again, 16 years old and talking with a maturity as if he is twice his own age.

“Baseball I love being in centerfield and seeing everything happening in front of me. I love hitting, when you are down two runs, bases loaded with two outs. Just thinking through that and having that opportunity.”​

“I can’t thank my parents enough for taking me all over the country so I could have this opportunity.  All of my coaches are such great people who truly only want what is best for me and have pushed me so hard to help me get to this point.  I know I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of them.”

That is the kind of kid Alek Thomas is, giving out his thanks to the people who subtly helped guide him to his goals in life.  “2018 is going to be a magical year. I can’t want to see what it has in store for me.  Whatever that may be I’m going to embrace it with everything I have and make the most of the opportunity.”

So when it all comes down to it, a 16 year old handles the biggest decision of his life with a grace and maturity that few people can handle when they are 30 years old.  He speaks with a calm demeanor that could deceive you if you had no idea what he was capable of as an athlete.  He strives for big pressure situations and why would you be surprised to hear such a response.  The pressure of being an AP student while being recruited must be immense.  But, that is why if I had to choose a high school kid to come up with the bases loaded, down by three in the bottom of the seventh,  I’m choosing Alek Thomas, because the pressure just does not get to him.  It motivates him. 

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