Jason Thomen isn't shy about voicing his disapproval when he comes across a North Carroll football teammate gulping down soda. The senior is a strong believer that good nutrition leads to superior performance on the field - a notion he has often preached this season as a captain of the Carroll County power.
But as talented as he might be on the gridiron, where he stars as a guard and middle linebacker, Thomen is perhaps even more polished on the mat. As a wrestler last winter, he advanced to the Class 4A-3A state finals at 215 pounds.
He shows equal prowess in the classroom.
Thomen plans to attend the University of Maryland, not for its athletics, but rather for its engineering program. As for sports, he will be content to play at the club level but plans to leave the door open for a possible walk-on to either the football or wrestling teams.
As a junior, you were a first-team All-County wrestler and second-team All-County football player. Do you have a longer history in one of those sports?
I played football for two years when I was younger, then all throughout high school. I just started wrestling in high school.
Do you have a favorite? Is there one that you plan to continue at the college level?
I'm not sure about continuing right now, but I can't really choose a favorite. It seems like in each season, I say, "Oh, this is my favorite sport," then once it gets to the next season, I'll say, "Oh, I like wrestling better now."
I can only imagine that football must be quite a bit more fun this season, given the way you've started.
Oh yeah, it's been a lot better than previous years.
Has your success this season been a big surprise, considering that the program had only experienced one winning season over the past two decades?
No, I don't think so. The coaches and all the players knew that if we worked hard, and if we did the things we were supposed to do, that we could have a season like this. Things like working hard in the offseason, not getting into trouble and getting good grades.
As a team captain, what kind of a role have you personally played in that?
I'm starting to be more of a leader now. I definitely tried to get guys out in the summer, and got on them if they didn't show up.
Now that the team has experienced some success, how has that affected the students at school? Are they more excited about the program than they used to be?
We've had a lot more people getting excited about us and coming to games. In years past, we'd struggle to get fans out, but that's all changed.
The team is off to its best start since 1978. Now, you've really got the toughest part of your schedule to come over the final weeks of the regular season. What do you need to do to prepare for that?
We're going to keep on working, whereas I think some other teams kind of just level off in terms of getting better. We're going to keep working, lift weights and things like that, and try to put everything together to play full games.
On a personal note, you switched from nose guard to middle linebacker this season. How has that transition gone for you?
It's been an awesome transition. It's fun running around at middle linebacker. It's more of a leadership position. With me being out there, I definitely do that more. I try to get everyone fired up and tell them to play smart.
Do you find that your wrestling abilities really help you in football?
Yeah, they go hand in hand. The workouts are helpful for both sports, and some of the techniques are also good for both.
You came so close to a state title in wrestling last year (Class 4A-3A, 215 pounds). Now that the opponent you lost to, Wilde Lake's Zach Brown, has graduated, do you feel pretty good about your chances for a state title this winter?
Yes, my goal is to be first in the state, and I realize I should be able to do that, if I work hard. I know I can't expect that it's going to happen by itself.
Was there any aspect of your wrestling technique that you've tried to work on since last season?
I need to do better on my feet, and it's always better to be even more conditioned.
I understand that you're particularly strict with your diet, and that you won't drink soda.
Yeah, I've had a lot of coaches tell me how important [nutrition] is and how it affects your performance. So I just made a commitment to be healthy, and realized that it makes a big difference in how well we perform. I started in high school cutting back on soda and not really drinking it. I'm sure it's helped a lot.
Do you ever get on your teammates when you see them chugging down sodas at school?
Yeah, I just kind of shake my head and say, "You shouldn't be drinking that before the game," or "You should probably not eat that." I try to explain to them why. It's worth a try. It hurts you on the field, and you can't perform as well. It gives you a sugar rush, then you just crash.
You also really excel in the classroom, with a GPA of 3.98. So I would guess that means you had all As and maybe one B in high school. Is that right?
Yeah, in freshman Health. I didn't raise my hand enough. Now that doesn't happen anymore.