Bill Johnson heard the rumors.
His attempts to quash such widespread gossip proved to be futile.
"My first year as coach, I kept hearing about this kid," Johnson said. "People and other kids would tell me, ‘He's going to help the team a lot. He's an athlete; he plays his tail off.’"
Despite this never-ending tittle-tattle, Johnson was still lukewarm at best.
"I was like, well, he better be pretty good because I have no idea who he is and I haven't seen him all summer," he said.
In time, Johnson became significantly less adamant about his skepticism regarding a certain hard-nosed teenager.
When it comes to this multi-sport phenom, the second-year Tallmadge head boys basketball coach quickly realized he had a diamond in the rough.
Not to mention, Johnson also knew he had a formidable protector if he ever found himself in a dark alley.
Thanks to his warrior-like mentality and relentless obsession for grunt work, Luke Thomas has made quite an impression on North Munroe Road.
The Tallmadge senior has won the hearts of countless fans, teammates and even a dubious coach or two, thanks to his abilities to excel on the court, gridiron and diamond.
Thomas is something that has become quite rare in an era that encourages specialization.
That would be a three-sport athlete.
In today’s world, such a label could resemble a vaquita sighting.
In other words, just like the marine mammal in the Gulf of California, it is critically endangered.
Thomas’ maniacal workload to push his body to practically unethical limits hasn’t excluded its share of torturous battle scars.
Point to any part of his body and Thomas has most likely experienced excruciating pain.
Been there, done that.
What about the terrifying staph infection?
That’s listed on his lab report too.
And just how lengthy are this gallant soldier’s medical records?
Try reading War and Peace. You may want to dust off Don Quixote too.
"Throughout my four years, I have gone through many battles with injuries and playing through some of them," Thomas said. "I never wanted to come off of the field or court.
"Playing three sports was always hard on my body because I never got a break, but I got through it."
If the insufferable agony wasn’t enough, Thomas is currently battling a dangerous disease that has turned a once unflappable world completely upside down.
Fortunately, Thomas has proven to be impenetrable when it comes to this mysterious illness.
Nevertheless, just like the rest of the population, it has taken its toll on the nearly invincible teenager.
Thomas’ high school career has been put on hold due to a deadly respiratory tract infection known as coronavirus.
As a result of this unprecedented plague, all high school sports have been suspended indefinitely.
Thomas may be a bit more distraught than others. That’s because he is expected to be the leadoff batter for the Blue Devils baseball team, which advanced to Division II regional play last year.
Thomas, who batted .364 in 2019, is a sure bet to be the team’s starting second baseman.
Not surprisingly, Tallmadge’s latest triple threat has treated this terrifying incident just like he has handled his vast amount of other hardships.
With callous indifference.
"I’m coping with this pandemic by spending a lot of time with family, playing games together and enjoying all of the time I have to spend with them," Thomas said. "To stay in shape for baseball season, I have been getting outside every day to walk and run. I have also been working out in the basement and hitting off of a tee out in the yard."
If his spring season is erased by this horrendous pandemic, Thomas will continue to keep his bat and glove handy.
The slick-hitting infielder plans to continue his academic and baseball careers at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.
Interestingly enough, Thomas didn’t make a name for himself on the diamond until last spring.
Although he is a four-year player, Thomas had to wait his turn since the powerful Blue Devils have been ridiculously stacked in recent years.
Sadly, his team’s overwhelming depth wasn’t the only reason for the snakebitten teen’s inactivity.
His health played a role too. Once again, Thomas’ fragile body ruthlessly abandoned him.
And his once promising outlook dissipated like a puff of smoke.
Thomas had a chance to crack the starting lineup as a sophomore, but a hazardous illness spoiled his potential coming-out party.
By the way, Tallmadge wound up reaching the state semifinals that year after winning the Division II championship the previous season.
"Luke had a really good year last year," longtime Blue Devils head baseball coach Kenny Linn said. "He might have been a starter in 2018. If anyone could have taken someone’s varsity spot, it would have been him.
"He had the staph infection during our Fort Lauderdale trip. That knocked him backwards and set the whole team back. He would have definitely given someone a run for their money."
Thomas made an impact wearing a helmet and pads too.
As has been the case throughout his career, something out of his control prevented him from maximizing his potential.
It certainly looked promising two weeks into the season.
Thomas started at cornerback and wide receiver for the Tallmadge football team and appeared to be a bona fide two-way threat.
However, his emergence was delayed by — wait for it — an injury.
This time, Thomas’ ankle sidelined him for a few games. When he returned, his array of exhilarating explosive devices were savagely dismantled.
"Luke is a big, strong athletic kid," first-year Blue Devils head football coach Mike Hay said. "It hurt not having him on the field.
"When he came back, he wasn’t himself. He battled through injuries every year. He never complained. He’s just a tough kid."
One of those injuries appeared to be very serious. Of course, Thomas didn’t seem to think so.
When it comes to the nearly unbreakable three-year starting cornerback, retreating to the locker room before the final whistle is completely unacceptable.
Even when his limbs are held together by scotch tape.
"He suffered a broken clavicle his sophomore year," Hay said. "He didn’t tell anyone about it."
Thomas certainly could have used a well-deserved break after an injury-prone fall.
When it comes to this stubborn teenager, that’s simply not his style.
It never will be.
Thomas traded his spikes for sneakers in no time and became the basketball team’s top defender.
Just ask Ethan Hays.
Thomas bottled up Aurora’s All-Ohio guard when it mattered most as the Blue Devils earned a thrilling 84-79 double-overtime win during the winter.
Hays cooled off considerably in the second half after scorching Tallmadge for 22 points in the first 24 minutes.
"We were switching screens at the time," Johnson said. "I thought we could continue to do that and things would change. I said as much at halftime and got a very rare fit of emotion from Luke.
"I asked him if he just wanted to face-guard Ethan. He said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Okay, you got it.’ Needless to say, we won in double OT.
"Luke might not have led us in any stats, but we couldn't win without him."
And how would Thomas react to such high praise?
Perhaps he would crack a smile, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll respond.
Think of it this way: No one has ever called the tight-lipped guard a Chatty Cathy.
Especially when he puts on a uniform. For Thomas, it goes something like this: Actions speak much louder than words.
"When he gets on the field or court, the switch goes on," Linn said. "He’s all business. That’s just his frame of mind. He goes out there to compete and win games."
Thomas hopes he can win several more games before he gets his diploma. If not for this pandemic, his senior season would be underway.
Like everyone else, Thomas doesn’t know what his immediate future holds.
One way or another, he fully expects to persevere during these difficult and horrifying circumstances.
As his lengthy track record indicates, this isn’t Thomas’ first rodeo.
And despite innumerable gashes to his virtually bulletproof frame, this accomplished blue and gold cowboy always manages to take the bull by the horns.
"You never know when the last time you do something will be, so never take anything for granted," Thomas said. "This is a hard time for all seniors, not just the ones who play sports. We just have to be positive and pray that everything will work out."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_Gannett.