Three months ago the outlook for the St. Luke's football team was somewhere between unknown and cautiously optimistic. The idea of winning a New England Prep School Athletic Conference bowl game for only the second time in 50 years seemed far-fetched.
St. Luke's had a rookie head coach, just seven seniors and six juniors, and only 29 players in the program. The Storm was three years removed from winning five games over a four-year stretch (5-30 from 2006-09), before posting back-to-back six-win seasons.
"When I was offered the position," Thomas Sr. said, "I felt I was in the right piece at the right time."
Thomas Sr. was right, although he had help, mainly from his son, UConn-bound Noel Thomas Jr. The Storm went 8-1 and defeated Hyde 28-26 in the NEPSAC Dan Rorke Bowl on Nov. 17 to complete one of the two greatest seasons in St. Luke's history.
"I knew we had a chance if we stayed healthy," Thomas Sr. said. "I was afraid after losing to King (in the FAA championship) that we might have lost our bowl bid. But we still got in. It was disappointing but it was a growing experience. I think we might have gotten caught up with our record and (the loss) helped with our humility."
So, it wasn't going to be the perfect Storm in 2012. But in the end they still got their NEPSAC championship.
"We didn't go undefeated but the loss to King humbled us and helped us (win the bowl game)," Noel Thomas Jr. said. "Everything happens for a reason."
If that's true, then the foundation for St. Luke's great season actually began two years earlier, in 2010 when the current coach and star running back moved from Norwalk High to St. Luke's. Noel Jr. just completed his second consecutive 1,000-yard season to earn a scholarship to UConn.
"Having Junior was an invaluable tool," Thomas Sr. said. "His football IQ is high and he can really feel the flow of the game. It will be bittersweet to see him play at the next level, but now I can be a fan instead of his coach."
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Thomas Jr., who also received offers from Rutgers, Boston College, Temple, Maryland and Penn State, loved playing for his dad ... but looks forward to the future.
"It was never a problem playing for my dad," Noel Jr. said. "Yeah, he was always hardest on me and there were times we bumped heads. The future will definitely be different, but on the plus side he's just going to be a fan instead of criticizing my every move. I won't miss that."
There couldn't have been much to criticize. Junior finished with 1,200 yards rushing while catching 21 passes for 394 yards. He scored 22 touchdowns -- 19 rushing, two receiving, one on defense -- and threw four TD passes. He had 189 total yards in the victory over Hyde.
Obviously, it took more than the coach and star offensive player to win a NEPSAC bowl championship. Quarterback Charlie Nelson ran the offense -- the spread or power game depending on the opponent -- masterfully.
"The goal for the seniors," Thomas Jr. said, "was to leave a legacy. And that's what we did."