Catholic High senior running back Khalil Thomas has no trouble explaining what roles Derrius Guice fills for the Bears.
Thomas quickly points out Guice’s abilities as a playmaker and says the sophomore running back also helps “keep the team loose.”
Asked if Guice is a comedian, Thomas smiles and says, “No, he’s a kid.”
That response elicits a broad smile from Guice. That’s how Khalil and the Kid roll. And so have the Bears (9-2). Catholic travels to Mandeville High (9-2) for a Class 5A quarterfinal playoff game set for 7 p.m. Friday.
“They’re both complete players,” Catholic coach Dale Weiner said. “They can catch, they can run, carry out fakes, block and return kicks. “They’re also return artists … each has returned a kick for a TD.
“I would say the closest combination we’ve had in recent years was Tasmin Knockum and Brandon Harrison in the early 2000s. Before that you’d have to go back to the 1990s and (Warrick) Dunn and (Kevin) Franklin to find two guys who have had this big an impact during the course of one season.”
Weiner seldom lavishes such lofty praise on his players. But a look at what Thomas and Guice have done explains things pretty well.
Thomas is a 5-foot-8, 175-pound runner who was typecast as a scatback until this season. He leads the Bears with 1,317 rushing yards on 158 carries. That’s an average of 8.3 yards per carry to go with 12 touchdowns. Thomas also leads the Bears with 18 catches for 312 yards and five more TDs.
Guice (6-0, 195) didn’t have a single carry the first time Catholic played Mandeville in Week 2. His coming-out party was the following week, when the Bears beat a Denham Springs High team that was ranked in the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Top 10 at the time.
From there, Guice has rushed for 734 yards on 79 carries with 12 TDs. He’s averaging 9.3 yards per carry and has also played key role in Catholic’s surge from a 3-7 finish last year to a quarterfinals berth this season.
“Like our coaches tell us, we have to finish the play,” Guice said. “I just keep my legs moving as long as I can.
“When somebody hits me, I’m going to try and stay on my feet and get the best out of the play … get as many yards as I can.”
The dynamic between the 15-year-old Guice and 17-year-old Thomas is one of mentor and pupil, though Thomas insists that Guice has taught him a few tricks of the trade, too.
“We got together last year during track season and ran on a few mock relays,” Thomas said of Guice. “And then in spring practice, we started to know each other as players. We bonded off the field, too.
“Derrius definitely taught me the importance of cutting across the field and trusting my speed. I was trying to make too many cuts back and forth, and he helped with that.”
Thomas has made all the right moves on and off the field for Catholic, the No. 5 playoff seed in 5A.
He talks about how the Bears came together as a team over the summer and adopted a selfless mindset. He praises each Catholic lineman for their role on offense, and notes the play of junior quarterback Nick Coomes, who has 1,009 passing yards and 456 rushing yards.
Weiner said Thomas does much more than talk the talk.
“I’ve got to tell you a huge part of that education (for Guice) has been Khalil,” Weiner said. “He has been as good a mentor to the young guys as anybody we’ve had who’s played here.
“He really takes the time to point out things to them. If I’m a young RB like Derrius, A: I know he’s going to tell me the right thing, and B: I can emulate what he’s doing. That’s how they’ve come to complement each other so well.”
Guice gushes, “At practice he (Thomas) never makes mistakes. He knows how to read the blocks, and he always makes the best cuts. It’s like our coaches say, the best cut is no cut.
“He’s so hard to tackle because he is so small and quick. It’s like you’re trying to run after a small pit bull. He’s my role model at practice. He pushes things really hard because he wants the best out of both of us.
“He reminds me we have to do what we can to help our linemen. Just like we need them to make plays for us.”
Guice is not the only one who notes the vesatility of Thomas, who has already made an official visit to the University of Louisiana at Monroe. He carries a 3.4 grade-point average and plans a major in sports medicine.
“One of the things that shocks people who play against him (Thomas) is how powerful he is,” Weiner said. “He finishes runs, he knocks people down at the end of a run and he can break tackles. Everybody knows he has the footwork and speed. But he’s also a tough hard-nosed guy.”
Hard-nosed played will be a must when the Bears take on a Mandeville team that returns eight starters from its 2011 squad that advanced to the 5A semifinals.
Like Weiner, Thomas says the Bears can forget about their 26-14 win over Mandeville in Week 2.
“We’ve got to be locked in and focused,” Thomas said. “They (the Skippers) are way better than they were when we played them in September. They’re like another team. We’re got to play our best.”
Guice watches intently and adds, “We’ve got to give it everything we have on every down.”
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