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Player of the Decade: A look back at Caleb Thomas' days of dominance at Righetti
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Player of the Decade

Player of the Decade: A look back at Caleb Thomas' days of dominance at Righetti

From the June 19 recap: Lompoc news you may have missed this week series

Caleb Thomas' football career at Righetti High School feels like a movie script. 

As a sophomore, he was a talented player poised to have a break-out season in his quest to becoming a Division I recruit. However, Thomas suffered a devastating leg injury early on, missing most of the season. 

Thomas worked his way back to the field for his junior season, turning in an impressive defensive campaign that earned him PAC 5 League MVP honors. 

As a certified play-maker, Thomas entered his senior season smarter, stronger and quicker than the year before. Thomas was set to play tight end and on the Warrior defensive line. 

But the 6-foot-4, 275-pounder suffered another setback, breaking his thumb in the fourth week of the season. That injury prevented him from playing tight end as he couldn't catch any passes. Instead of faltering, Thomas gladly moved to the offensive guard position where he continued to dominate opponents while also overpowering offensive linemen from his defensive end position. 

Thomas again earned league MVP honors, splitting the award with former teammate Chase Artopoeus of St. Joseph. He also led the Warriors to a CIF sectional final. 

Thomas earned one of the area's most prestigious honors that season, being named the Santa Maria Times' All-Area MVP. Then his dream was finally realized as Thomas signed a full-ride scholarship with Tulane University in New Orleans. 

For that storybook career as a Warrior, Thomas is our 12th nominee for Player of the Decade.

In his final season at Righetti, Thomas compiled 14 sacks and 42 solo tackles as the Warriors finished 10-3 and played for the CIF Central Section Division II title in 2018. Thomas had 61 total tackles, 17 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks as a junior. 

Thomas recorded 103 total tackles (86 solo), 21 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception over his final two seasons.

He was a unanimous choice for All-Area MVP, winning the honor among players from all over the Central Coast. Thomas' coach, Tony Payne, said he was an easy choice for that award.

"As far as dominance and having to game plan for, including his dominance on both sides of the ball, Caleb is the most clear choice that I've seen in a long time around this area," Payne said in 2018. "His combination of speed, strength, instincts and athleticism is off the charts. He was invaluable to our run and building our culture around here. Caleb is just a fantastic student, a fantastic guy."

Thomas was the lone Righetti player to be named the All-Area MVP last decade. Righetti's Javon Davis was named co-MVP along with Pioneer Valley's Nick Leyden in 2008. The only other Righetti player to be named All-Area MVP since 2000 was running back Ryan Mole in 2002. 

"It was definitely an experience I'll never forget," Thomas said of his final season at Righetti, where the Warriors finished as runners-up to CIF Central Section Division II champion Tulare Union. "Coming up freshman year and having a great season. Then sophomore year having a season-ending injury and then coming back and bringing that winning tradition to Righetti, something that I hope will stay here for a while after I'm gone."

The remaining Player of the Decade nominees, chosen from Northern Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, will be released in the coming weeks. Thomas joins the previous nominees, including Arroyo Grande's Garrett Owens, Seth Jacobs and Bradley Mickey; Lompoc's Toa Taua, Ainuu Taua and Lavon Coleman; St. Joseph linebacker Fenton Will; Nipomo receiver Nick Kimball and quarterback Matt Albright; former Santa Maria quarterback Blake Truhitte and former Santa Ynez receiver Gabe Prendergast.

Once all nominees have been announced, readers will have the opportunity to vote for Player of the Decade. The list of nominees was compiled by the sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News, which polled area coaches. 

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See who our nominees are thus far.

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You can support the hard work of our local sports team by signing up for a News+ Membership