Most Division I college football players were once the star of his high school team.
They played nearly every down, on both sides of the ball, posting stats impressive enough to attract college coaches from all over the country. But for the majority, it is a completely different story when they finally arrive on campus.
They go from being one of the oldest on the team, to one of the youngest and from one of the most experienced players, to one of the least.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Thomas is no exception, and he admits that not seeing the field as much as he used to is a difficult transition.
“I think that’s difficult for anybody. You just have to take what they give you and try to get better each and everyday. No matter what the situation is, you just have to strive to be the best and keep yourself motivated,” Thomas said.
After leading his high school team to the state championship his senior year, racking up 1,652 yards passing while scoring 20 touchdowns in the season, it was a drastic change for Thomas when he was redshirted during his first year at Tech. Thomas won the backup job this season, and although limited, has found his way on the field on several occasions.
He made his collegiate debut in the season opener against Elon, a 70-0 victory for the Jackets. Thomas rushed for 53 yards on five carries and showed off the speed that won him a high school track state championship when he scored on a 44-yard touchdown run. Following the game, a comment by Coach Johnson about the touchdown run all but summed up how Thomas felt about finally getting back on the field.
“You just have to take what they give you and try to get better each and everyday.”
“In fact, the last touchdown, I told my man that if he broke into the clear, to take a knee. He just kind of smiled and said, ‘come on coach, I haven’t played in two years,’” Johnson said.
After not playing in the three games following the season opener, Thomas has found himself on the field at some point in each of the last three games. Thomas says that as his playing time increases he becomes more comfortable running Tech’s offense. His increased understanding was evident last weekend against Syracuse when he averaged 9.5 yards a carry and broke a 50-yard touchdown run on a triple option play.
Being the backup, Thomas spends a lot of time on the sideline, never quite knowing when starter Vad Lee may go down with an injury or when Coach Johnson will decide to let him get some snaps. He says that while on the sideline he plays close attention to try to figure out how the opponent is trying to defend Tech’s offense so that when his number is called he’ll be prepared.
“You just have keep yourself prepared and stay in the game mentally so you’ll be ready when it’s your time to go out there,” Thomas said.
Thomas may not know when or how often he will play this season, but when he does get on the field, he knows what he is trying to accomplish.
“Just try to be the best that I can be and do what’s best for the team. I just want to put the team into a position to win the game,” Thomas said.