Any kind of adversity defensive back Clevan Thomas faces on the arena football field would likely seem childish compared with some of the things he faced as a corrections officer in Florida.

He spent time helping inmates, stopping fights and generally keeping things safe in his job.

Having returned to the San Jose SaberCats this season after a four-year absence, Thomas imparts wisdom easily and earns respect of his teammates merely by his approach to the game.

"The leadership," SaberCats coach Darren Arbet said of Thomas' greatest strength. "He has a great presence and is a leader on the field, in the locker room, in the weight room and off the field. He's a winner and a Hall of Famer. He's the best to ever play that position."

The SaberCats go for their third straight win Saturday when they take on archrival and defending arena football champion Arizona Rattlers in Phoenix at 5:30 p.m.

Thomas, who turns 34 Saturday, has showed he still can play defensive back despite being away from the game so long.

He intercepted one pass in the SaberCats' 47-42 opening-night win at the San Antonio Talons and then picked off three passes, including on the final play, in last Friday night's 65-62 home-opening win over the Orlando Predators.

After the AFL shut down operations following the 2008 season, Thomas worked at several places, including as a high school football coach, before landing a job at the correction facility.


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"I was in shock and disbelief at the time," Thomas recalled. "But I was also out of work and was married, with three kids. I was applying all over."

Working the graveyard shift, he dealt with violence on a daily basis, and also looked out for inmates' well-being. He also encountered former high school friends who had become inmates.

Last year, he was elected to the AFL Hall of Fame. He also started doing some soul-searching and discovered he could best help his family if he returned to work as a football player. So far, it's worked out for everybody.

  • San Jose leads the all-time series with Arizona 20-18 and beat the Rattlers twice during the regular season last year. Arizona came back to knock the SaberCats out of the playoffs en route to the title.

    "They're a good football team," Arbet said. "You get ready for every game, but this is a division game and the big thing about it is they won the title last year and it's an opportunity for us to play the best."

  • Thomas calls his 14-year-old son, Clevan Jr., "my toughest critic. He was on me for giving up five touchdowns."

  • Arizona coach Kevin Guy was the SaberCats defensive coordinator from 2005-07, and Rattlers defensive coordinator Omarr Smith is San Jose's all-time tackles leader.

  • SaberCats quarterback Aaron Garcia began his career with the Rattlers.