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Montana linebacker Alex Thomas runs after an interception during a fall scrimmage in 2015. Thomas has transferred to Carroll College.

KURT WILSON, Missoulian

While on the recruiting trail this offseason, Carroll College recently scored a pair of football transfers in former University of Montana linebacker Alex Thomas and ex-Citrus College defensive back Jeremiah Vasquez.

Both arrived in Helena and have begun acclimating to life at Carroll College.

In Vasquez’s case, the cold weather is a welcome change from the blistering sun in California. Vasquez grew up and attended high school in Spanaway, Washington.

As he answers questions in the waiting area outside of Saints’ coach Mike Van Diest’s office, the coach walks past and offers, “that’s a great young guy.” Other teammates walk into the room and say hello, introducing themselves to the freshest face of the Saints.

Vasquez and Thomas will be attending classes this spring semester. Carroll had previously announced the addition of another transfer as well, Seamus Tully, a defensive tackle who came to Carroll from Coastal Carolina.

Vasquez should have a chance to make an impact right away, especially with the graduation of senior corners Vince DiGiallonardo and Ryan Gregory.

He came to Carroll with an emphasis on academics. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound corner plans to focus on pre-med and says it has long been a goal of his to use football for a chance at higher education. While at Citrus College, the student-athlete carried a 3.5 GPA.

Vasquez’s path to Carroll spans the west coast and some time off from football. He took a year off of from the game after he hit a rough patch in life, though he did not elaborate. Vasquez then redshirted at the College of Siskiyous in 2015 before transferring to Citrus College, where he earned a starting position and recorded 70 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups during his 10 games there.

Vasquez doesn’t define success with his physical attributes. He prefers to think of efficiency and technique when it comes to playing corner. He doesn’t need to be a 6-foot-4 Brandon Browner, who captivated football fans in the Northwest with his incredible stature. Vasquez doesn’t think he needs an absurd amount of strength to be impactful, either.

His mentor, Kevin Puckett, a former Central Washington defensive back, taught him differently. Before he ever stepped foot on Carroll’s campus, Vasquez had an affinity for studying.

“He was telling me, honestly, strength means nothing at your position,” Vasquez said. “You have to be smart with it. That’s all it is. It’s knowledge. Once he taught me that, I started studying the game like no other.”

Vasquez’s goals at Carroll? Win championships and become an All-American, two achievements he speaks about with conviction, and a fiery belief that makes him seem like a perfect fit with the Saints.

“Right now, I’m athletic enough to cover anybody, I’d say,” Vasquez said. “But it’s really how I cover them is what matters. They could be more athletic than me, but if you know how to cover, you know how to cover.”

The 6-1, 222-pound Thomas comes to Carroll under different circumstances. The institution doesn’t offer him a vastly greater educational opportunity than what he had at Montana. Thomas is still pursing his degree in political science with a minor in constitutional law.

Thomas came to Carroll because of a breakup, of sorts.

The linebacker went to the University of Montana with strong pedigree, having picked up 24 sacks, 28 tackles for loss and blocking four field goals while at C.M. Russell High School. His production led to an All-State selection his senior year as a Rustler. As a freshman at UM, he lettered for the team. Sophomore year, he hardly saw a the field.

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Thomas’ play decreased as a result of the turnover for the Grizzlies.

“That’s where my world got flipped,” he said.

Bob Stitt became Montana’s 36th football coach when he was announced as the head man in 2014. Ty Gregorak, the team’s defensive coordinator, who had a hand in Thomas coming to UM and succeeding early as a freshman, left the team for a new gig in Bozeman.

Stitt and his new staff, Thomas said, did not find a use for him.

“New coaches came in and had their own way,” Thomas said. “I didn’t feel like I was going to get fair chance to play. I was getting kids put ahead of me that I didn’t think deserved it.

“I want to be making a difference.”

Thomas has a chance to fit in right away at linebacker with the departure of Jake Konen. It’s also part of the reason Carroll made sense: Thomas could plug into Carroll’s defense without needing to sit out a season, like the NCAA would mandate if he chose something outside of the NAIA.

Thomas is getting used to class sizes at Carroll, saying he’s had courses with six total classmates. It’s been jarring, considering some lecture halls at UM could hold 200 or so students.

“I like it,” he said. “The people are really nice and really welcoming. Treating me with open arms. I have to get sued to the size difference, I guess.”

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