PARKERSBURG | Ed Thomas' voice cannot be stilled.
Listen to Jon Wiegmann, the longtime assistant football coach at Aplington-Parkersburg.
"It's little things like the first practice," said Wiegmann. "That first day you sort of start thinking back. It wasn't that long ago that Coach was out there. You know, you stand there and you think you can hear him yelling at times. You can hear his voice. That's the kind of impact he had."
Listen to Alex Pollock, who played for Ed Thomas and is about to start his fifth season as A-P's head football coach.
"Sometimes, I say things in practice and I say to myself, 'Well, Coach said that when I was a kid,''' said Pollock. "You get flashbacks all of a sudden."
Listen to Aaron Thomas, Ed Thomas' son, who is now the principal at Aplington-Parkersburg High School.
"We're so fortunate with the amount of video we have of my dad," said Aaron Thomas. "I can still go hear his voice and see different clips. I can watch the whole last season -- the last season he coached. We have a documentary of that. I'm very fortunate I can show my boys that."
Five years have passed since Mark Becker walked into a weight room and shot and killed Ed Thomas. Five years. A half-decade. When Thomas was murdered on June 24, 2009, the family lost a father. A-P lost a football coach who posted a 292-84 record and won two state titles and a mentor who sent a multitude of players into college and even the National Football League. The coaching profession lost a highly respected man who built his philosophy around faith, family and football. And future generations lost a chance to play for him, learn from him.
All of that is gone, never to return. That understanding, five years after Ed Thomas was killed, isn't easy to live with, even though the horror of June 24, 2009 has faded with time.
When Jon Wiegmann talked about the head coach, he paused at one point and said, "If I break down and cry, I'm sorry."
Yet, there are memories of good times, laughter, discussions about the New York Yankees, golf and so on. The Ed Thomas Family Foundation offers assistance to countless people and around the world through financial aid, coaching clinics and other functions.
Aaron Thomas has spoken to Fortune 500 CEOs and grade school kids about his father. Jan Thomas, Ed's wife, has testified before Congress on mental health and gun violence issues.
And there's still football being played on Ed Thomas Field, the Sacred Acre, a brand of the game that the coach himself would recognize.
"I'd like to think his footprint is all over this football program," said Alex Pollock. "Yeah, there's reminders everywhere."
Said Ed Thomas' son, Todd, who is an assistant football coach for A-P, "We're getting to the point where there's a little bit of distance from the day it happened until now. The kids in high school now have never played for my dad. As far as his legacy goes, it's more my brother (Aaron), myself, Coach Wiegmann, Coach Pollock -- all the people who played for Dad and worked with my dad trying to carry on his legacy and stand for the things he stood for in all the years he was here."
Aaron Thomas said the leadership and life lessons taught by his mother and father enabled them to carry on in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Those lessons enabled the family to treat the Beckers with compassion.
"We were just trying to do what my dad would have expected from us and how he would have responded to that day," said Aaron Thomas.
Five years later, the Thomas family members are still responding to June 24, 2009. They lived through an emotional funeral, an appearance on the ESPY award program, the Becker trial, congressional testimony, the writing of a book (The Sacred Acre). Today is not the same as yesterday.
"It is a new normal," said Todd Thomas. "Thankfully, some things as far as his murder goes -- some of that stuff is starting to move to the side, which is great. So it's a new normal and we're kind of living it.
"Once in a while, things come up and we have to discuss that day and that time. That's OK. It's a chapter in our life that changed us. For me, it changed me for the better. But it did change us. So it's not like a chapter I want to completely forget about. It's something I want to build off of."
For Aaron Thomas, part of the building process became speaking about his father and his life. Shortly after he appeared at a press conference on that day in June 2009, he began getting inquiries. Would he speak? Could he speak?
He did, and he has. In 2013, Aaron Thomas gave roughly 70 speeches. He expects to cut back a little now that he's a high school principal. But he will continue to speak.
"For me, it's a way to continue to talk about the man I respect the most and the guy I wanted to be most like," said Aaron Thomas.
Then there's Ed Thomas Family Foundation. It grew out a conversation between former A-P, Iowa and NFL standout Casey Wiegmann and Jon Jordan, another who played for Ed Thomas. From there, the Thomas family agreed, and the foundation began about four years ago.
At its bedrock, through the clinics and donations (one went to build a church in Asia), the Ed Thomas Family Foundation is about Faith, Family and Football.
"That's what it is, exactly," said Aaron Thomas.
Added Todd Thomas, "It took us a couple of years within the Foundation to really pinpoint our vision and our focus. I know we're really focused on trying to create the next generation of Ed Thomases, the next coaches that stand for what a coach is supposed to stand for.
"Nothing has changed. It's still faith first. Anything we can do with family and families around here we are gonna support that. Football ... it doesn't necessarily have to be football. What we're trying to do as far as coaches, we're trying to reach out to not just football coaches. It's any coaches. They play such an important role in people's lives."
One of those coaches playing a vital role in student life at Aplington-Parkersburg is Alex Pollock.
In 2009, Jon Wiegmann and Al Kerns served as co-head coaches at A-P. Pollock took over in 2010, as a 26-year-old leading a program for the first time with the death of Ed Thomas still very, very fresh.
He was replacing a legend, the toughest job a head coach anywhere must face, and a job made even more challenging by June 24, 2009. Pollock leaned on the staff veterans like Wiegmann plus Aaron and Todd Thomas.
Pollock led A-P to three consecutive playoff appearances before the Falcons missed postseaon play last fall during an injury-filled, 4-5 season.
"I don't think it's changed too much in the way of what we're trying to accomplish all the way through," said Wiegmann. "Maybe there are some new wrinkles on defense or something new on offense once in a while, but when Alex said he was interested in coaching here, I knew he would bring back the same values Coach (Thomas) had. So, values-wise, it's been pretty much the same."
Wiegmann said he's asked about Ed Thomas frequently by the kids who were still in elementary school in 2009. Pollock discusses Ed Thomas and the A-P tradition during spring meetings or when the flag football program kicks off.
"I feel it's my duty to let kids know what we're talking about, even though that younger generation doesn't really know him," said Pollock. "His name and his legacy get brought up, but it's not something where we go out to practice and say, 'Ed would have done this or Ed would have done that.' We are five years into my coaching career here and I feel like it's what I want it to be. I'm very lucky we have the coaches and the community that accepts that, because that was one of my worries when I took the job."
The season for Aplington-Parkersburg begins tonight against a traditional rival, Dike-New Hartford. There will be plenty of other games and players and beautiful nights under the lights. Along the way, the men and women who loved and admired Ed Thomas hope that his voice will still be heard, somehow, some way.
"I still want to make him proud," said Aaron Thomas. "He always wanted me to give my best. He instilled that in me -- to think of A-P as a special place. My hope in 10 years is our new students who are in high school still think of A-P as a special place and they take pride in what we do and our sense of community, that we don't lose that.
"To me in 10 years, if that's still going on, my father is still being honored, whether they knew Ed Thomas or didn't know Ed Thomas."