Jaguars center Brad Meester just finished his daily workout at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Wednesday morning when he heard the news about his high school football coach being shot in Parkersburg, Iowa.
Coach Ed Thomas was rushed to a hospital and pronounced dead shortly after his arrival. Thomas served as a mentor to Meester growing up in Parkersburg, Iowa, a city of 1,800.
"It's really hard to see this happen," Meester said. "My prayers go out to his wife, Jan, and his two boys, Aaron and Todd. I think as a former player and really everybody that's been through that program, you think of him as almost a father figure. He's one of those guys that truly cared about every player that was in that program."
Thomas spent 37 years as a coach and compiled a career record of 292-84 including a 156-31 mark as the head coach at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. He won state titles in 1993 and 2001 and led A-P to 19 state playoff appearances. He also served as the school's athletic director.
Meester is one of four active NFL players who played under Thomas, joining Jared DeVries, Denver's Casey Wiegmann and Green Bay's Aaron Kampman. Aplington-Parkersburg has an enrollment of just under 300.
"One of his biggest things was getting each kid to reach his full potential," Meester said. "It's just the stuff that he taught every one of us, stuff that I'll never forget. The value of hard work, pride in what you do and just caring about the guy beside you and that's what he did. He cared for each and every one of us that went through that program. He's been such an inspirational guy to myself and to everybody."
A tornado struck Parkersburg on May 25, 2008 and several people were killed and much of the downtown was leveled in the city of 1,800. Aplington-Parkersburg High School was completely destroyed along with many homes and businesses in and around the community. Meester spearheaded an effort with the Jacksonville Jaguars to raise more than $90,000 for tornado relief in the area by selling an A-P Falcons Tornado Relief hat at the 2008 minicamp and also on jaguars.com. Many Jaguars players and coaches wore the hats throughout the season.
Meester spent time with Coach Thomas last year surveying the damage in the area when he returned to deliver the proceeds from A-P hats. Thomas' house was destroyed in the tornado along with the school and Meester is still amazed at how quickly his former coach returned things to normal.
"Coach had a huge, huge role in getting that program back up and running in such a short time period," Meester said. "It was literally a couple months after it happened…that program never missed a beat and I don't know that anyone else could have done that. Having to rebuild his own home, I mean his own house was destroyed in the process, rebuilding everything in his own house and yet keeping that program running, nobody else could have done that, and that's the type of guy that he was.
"He truly cared for each player. He truly cared for that program and he gave everything to it and that's one of the things that we loved about him."
In addition to coaching, Thomas played a major role in the lives of the entire student body as a history teacher.
"He was known by everybody," Meester said. "I think everybody looked up to this guy. As players you wanted to do anything you could to please him and I think it was the same way as students."
Meester returned to Parkersburg a couple of weeks ago and ran into Thomas at a wedding.
"He was there and I got to speak to him," Meester said. "That definitely means a lot to me to just be able to get that chance. Just getting to joke around with him, talk to him just like old times. We talked about my kids. That was nice."
The four NFL players from Parkersburg helped Coach Thomas win the 2005 NFL high school football coach of the year award as the players sent personal essays and tributes to the voting committee. Thomas and his wife won an all-expense paid trip to Super Bowl XL.
Meester and his wife, Jamie, will return to Parkersburg for the funeral and think of all the memories he had of his football coach.
"No matter who you were on that field, whether you started or you didn't play a single down, he cared so much about each and every player that came through there and what he did to get everything out of every person, that hard work ethic to character and pride in what you do," Meester said. "Each and every one of us that came through that program no matter what you did, you could take that stuff and use it in life and I think that was one of his big things is just being able to take those values and use it in every day life with your family, at your job, in your Christian life, everything. He was one of those guys and he's definitely going to be missed."
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT ED THOMAS
"Coach Thomas is the pillar of the community. Anything that affects him affects Parkersburg."
Butler County Sheriff Jason Johnson
"It's just awful. My thoughts and prayers are for Coach Thomas and his family and the Parkersburg community. I know him well. I've been a real fan of his. As an old coach myself, he epitomizes what it means to be a high school football coach. He's just a legend. He's an incredible role model for the generations of kids in the Parkersburg area. He's someone that I really admire a great, great deal. He was instrumental in bringing Parkersburg back (after the 2008 tornado)."
Iowa Governor Chet Culver
"Like all tragedies, the taking of Coach Thomas' life is senseless. At this time our thoughts and prayers are with his family and the Aplington-Parkersburg community and the thousands of lives he so positively impacted. He embodied the essence of what a coach should be, and that legacy will endure. He will be forever remembered not so much for his many wins on the field, but for the exemplary manner in which he coached kids and led the Aplington-Parkersburg community and school. This was especially true last spring and summer as they rebuilt from a devastating tornado. He was overwhelmed with the ensuing gratitude from the efforts of the Iowa coaching community and others during the rebuilding."
Richard Wulkow, Executive Director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association