BEREA — Defensive end Chad Thomas lost his temper. Then he lost his composure.
He may have lost some fans.
The final act of Thomas’ meltdown Sunday was giving the middle finger to heckling fans while running sprints toward the bleachers.
Coach Freddie Kitchens made the team run sprints as punishment because Thomas’ fight with tight end Pharaoh Brown would’ve been penalized in a game. A couple of fans yelled to Thomas, a third-round pick in 2018 who played only four games and didn’t have a tackle as a rookie despite being healthy, that he should’ve been running harder after causing the sprints.
“If I have talked to him about it, that is going to stay between us,” Kitchens said of Thomas’ gesture. “Of course, Chad Thomas is very emotional, a passionate guy. I want those guys to play with passion, but he is also a young guy so he has to understand and develop a sense of when to move on. I think he will learn.”
Thomas didn’t talk to reporters after practice or issue an apology.
“Yikes. I didn’t see it,” defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said of the finger. “Yeah, don’t do it. But I know sometimes emotions get flared. Sometimes you don’t want to hear all of that.
“We’re always on that line. People forget that.”
Thomas’ time in the spotlight started when he got locked up with Brown during a play toward the end of practice and wouldn’t let up when Kitchens demanded. Thomas was in a rage and continued to go after Brown, sparking tight end Orson Charles to charge at Thomas as other teammates intervened and tried to control Thomas. Linebacker Christian Kirksey tried to calm him down as he eventually walked him away from the scrum.
They’re now running sprints as I type this because of this: pic.twitter.com/PkBT1sQYX1
— Ken Carman (@KenCarman) July 28, 2019
“I was very pleased with Chad Thomas and Pharaoh Brown because they were competing,” Kitchens said. “Now they just have to understand when enough is enough because then it affects the team.”
Kitchens said the Browns “don’t practice penalties,” so he had them run a series of four sprints the width of the field and back.
“Freddie told us in the spring if somebody gets in a fight we’re just going to stop practice and we’re going to run,” linebacker Joe Schobert said. “So he’s a man of his word, he does what he says.”
Defensive end Olivier Vernon and Ogunjobi noted that fights happen in practice, especially in the trenches.
“Ain’t nothing changed. It’s been like that since the prehistoric times,” Vernon said. “You’ve got guys who are just not going to back down. You don’t want guys that are going to back down. You want guys that are going to fight, fight for themselves, fight for each other.”
His teammates didn’t carry a grudge against Thomas for making them run.
“Sometimes your brother makes a mistake,” Ogunjobi said. “We win as a team and we lose as a team so everything we do is as a team. We just have to let those guys know they have to be accountable and try to stay away from the fistfights and all of that.”
“That’s part of the deal,” Vernon said. “We’re going to be in shape. I’ll tell you that.”
“They are a team. Team means together,” Kitchens said.
Thomas has been running with the second team, and Kitchens believes he has a bright future despite the slow start to his career.
“Chad is going to be a good football player,” he said. “He is doing well, but he is a young guy, and our young guys we need to keep bringing along and showing them the way.
“Chad has shown us he is willing to play with passion, he is willing to play with technique and he is willing to play with a high motor. Those are all things that we like.”
For some, flipping off the fans crossed the line. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said he would encourage Thomas to apologize.
“I’d definitely tell him to do that to the fans, definitely,” he said. “You always want the fan base behind you. You don’t want that stigma on you.”