The defending 5A state 189 champion from Layton High is an unassuming standout in the sport as he carries a smile around gyms before and after his matches.
But, like Saturday night in the finals of the Viewmont Invitational, when Thomas walks on the mat it’s all business. And there may be no wrestler in Utah who does his job better.
“I am focused on being national champion,” Thomas said after methodically defeated Mike Schena of Delta, 17-4. “There are always things to learn and improve on. That is what I’m doing.”
And although the match was won by a large margin, Thomas was quick to point out that his opponent was no push over. He said it was much more difficult than the lopsided score might indicate.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” Thomas said. “No wrestling match is easy. It is always tough to go out there and battle someone.”
With the bull’s eye on his back as the defending state champion and one who only lost by one point over the summer to the eventual national champion, Thomas is very calm. His approach to the sport he loves is as much about the mental aspect as it is the physical and technical part.
“When I was a sophomore I worried all of the time,” he said. “I worried and was constantly afraid. I was afraid of failure, afraid I wouldn’t win, worried I would miss a move, everything. I spent a lot of energy worrying.
“In this sport you can’t be afraid to fail. You just have to go out and do what you know how to do and get rid of the negative thoughts.”
Thomas gives the credit to this aspect of his success to coach John Fager and the coach’s father, Jim, a local sports psychologist. By working on the mental part of the sport, Thomas has exorcised any negative demons that might have parked in his mind as a younger athlete.
“Coach and Mr. Fager have been a huge help to me with my mental approach to wrestling,” Thomas said. “They helped me get rid of any doubts I might have had. I don’t have the mental blocks I used to and it’s great.”
Removing the doubts helps Thomas as he continues his march toward repeating as state champion and becoming a national champion.
Even though setting a standard of being a national champion is beyond the comprehension of most, Fager the coach believes it is definitely attainable by Thomas.
“Derek can be the national champion,” Fager said. “He has all of the qualities and was extremely close last year.”
For Thomas, however, it is about the next step.
“I have my goals but I just take it one match at a time.”