Just two years ago, Caleb Thomas was sidelined, forced to miss most of his sophomore season with a devastating leg injury.
While waiting for his broken leg to heal, Thomas watched as his teammates finished 1-9 without him.
Much has changed since that lost 2016 season.
Thomas returned to the field and helped the Warriors make the playoffs as they went 5-6 in 2017. He was named the PAC 5 League MVP. The Warriors' resurgent season still wasn't enough to stave off a coaching change as Tony Payne took over for Ed Herrmann.
Still, Thomas and the Warriors kept rising.
Righetti advanced to the program's first-ever CIF title game this fall, with Payne at the helm and Thomas leading the way in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Righetti finished 10-3 in 2018 and Thomas earned another league MVP award, splitting the Mountain League honor with St. Joseph quarterback and former teammate Chase Artopoeus.
The sports staff at Lee Central Coast Newspapers has thrown yet another honor Thomas' way.
The LCCN sports staff voted Thomas the All-Area MVP for the 2018 football season, beating out the area's top players from Arroyo Grande to Santa Ynez.
Thomas is the first Warrior to be voted All-Area MVP by the Times' sports staff in a decade.
Payne, Righetti's first-year coach and the 2018 All-Area Coach of the Year, wholeheartedly endorsed Thomas as the area's MVP.
"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. "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."
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.
The honor is usually awarded to quarterbacks or running backs and sometimes even receivers. (Lompoc's Ainuu Taua was voted All-Area MVP in 2013 as a defensive lineman and went on to play at UCLA).
Thomas was just too dominant to go unnoticed.
On defense, he was unblockable, beating double and triple teams. He finished with 14 sacks while playing against the area's toughest competition.
Thomas can also play the run as he racked up 42 solo tackles. He had 16 tackles-for-loss and even intercepted a pass.
"It means everything. It just shows how much the Righetti program has helped me improve and all my peers that have pushed me to be the greatest I can be," Thomas said of being chosen as the All-Area MVP. "All my coaches, coach Payne, defensive coordinator (Shawn) Ramirez. They've all shaped me and molded me into the player that I am today."
Thomas didn't just terrorize opposing quarterbacks in 2018. He also started at guard on the offensive line, paving the way for a monstrous rushing attack led by Adan Solis, the 2018 All-Area Offensive Player of the Year.
"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."
Thomas also brought leadership, experience and even a bit of coaching to the Warriors, often critiquing his linemates on technique and positioning.
For some perspective on the type of player and teammate he is, Thomas said the highlight of his final season was seeing one of his closest friends emerge as an MVP-level player himself.
"Seeing one of my best friends, Adan Solis, to see his senior year," Thomas said of his favorite senior year memory.
Solis rushed for more than 1,800 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2018.
"Everybody always believed in him and for him finally get that chance and to come through and have that amazing season that will probably will never be replicated again in Righetti history," Thomas said of Solis, "it was amazing to see that."
Thomas showed no lingering effects from his 2016 injury. In fact, Thomas fought through a different injury in 2018: A broken thumb. He wore an oversized cast taking over his right forearm for most of the season.
"I had the cast replaced four times during the season and it was definitely annoying," Thomas said. "But I knew I couldn't let my team down by sitting out, so I just stepped up and tried to play to the best of my ability with it."
Last week, Thomas signed to play in college with Tulane, the lone Santa Maria Valley player to sign with an FBS school during the early-signing period. Thomas will most likely line up on the defensive line for the Green Wave in New Orleans, but after playing defensive end, offensive guard, linebacker and some tight end, he's ready to contributed anywhere on the field in college.
"I think I can play wherever they need me, wherever the team needs me," Thomas said. "If they need me to play tight end I could drop some weight and get faster. If they need me to play O-line I can put on some weight and get stronger. I feel I'm versatile enough to play any position."