Worth The Wait - Terrence Thomas
Sept. 7, 2011
By Adam K. Moussa
Four years ago, redshirt senior linebacker Terrence Thomas came to the University of Memphis by way of Eufaula, Ala., a city with a population of just over 14,000 residents.
Growing up in small town Alabama, Thomas learned the importance of patience and persistence, characteristics that have served as the cornerstone for his success on the field and in the classroom at the U of M.
"Eufaula is a very small town, it's just one little circle," said Thomas. "Our claim to fame is Lake Eufaula. Every summer, we have a big bass fishing tournament there, and it's covered by ESPN. Other than those couple of weeks a year, time in Eufaula passes very slowly."
Not much of an avid fisherman, Thomas took up playing football to pass the time.
"When I was young, I was very quiet and reserved, but I was also very hard-headed. All I wanted to do was run around and knock into things," Thomas said jokingly.
Recognizing her son's interest in demolition, Thomas' mother Emily signed him up to play little league football at age 10.
"As soon as I started playing organized football, I knew that it was for me. My coaches started teaching me about the strategic aspects of the game and that's when I really fell in love," said Thomas. "I learned that there is much more to the game than simply smacking into people. You have to anticipate moves on the field, so you can put yourself in a position to make plays."
As Thomas grew, athletics came to serve as not only a pass time, but a means to keep him out of teenage trouble.
"The main thing for young people to do in Eufaula is play sports. If you aren't involved in athletics, it's easy to get into trouble," said Thomas. "I just tried to get involved in as many sports as I could, so that I wasn't tempted to get into mischief."
Competing on Eufaula High School's football, basketball and track and field teams kept Thomas occupied and also helped him to dream about life outside of Eufaula city limits.
"Athletics provided me with structure and kept me busy, but more than that, sports inspired me to do things that had never been done in my family," stated Thomas.
By the time he reached his senior year of high school, Thomas developed dreams of going to college and becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree.
A self-proclaimed "momma's boy" growing up, Thomas knew that, to achieve these goals, he needed to leave home and live on his own.
"I love my hometown, but when I graduated from high school, I didn't have any desire to stay in south Alabama. I knew that I needed to get out on my own and chase my dreams," said Thomas.
After leading the EHS football team to a 14-1 record and a class 5A state runner-up finish as a senior, interest from universities within the state of Alabama came pouring in.
"I got looks from Auburn, Alabama and UAB, but once I visited Memphis, I knew that it was the place for me," Thomas said. "I really liked that I could be on my own, far from home and the city was somewhere that I could see myself living."
What Thomas couldn't foresee was just how long it would take for him to live out his football dreams.
For his first three seasons at the U of M, Thomas would serve as a member of the Tigers' practice squad, putting in the daunting work of practice and rarely seeing game action.
"I think sometimes guys get labeled as one thing or another and they just slip through the cracks," said Thomas. "Working hard in practice every day and hardly seeing the field on game days was tough on me, but my family was always there to lift my spirits."
Encouragement from Thomas' mother and grandfather served as motivation to keep his gridiron aspirations alive.
"To be honest, there were times that I thought about quitting or transferring, but my family always motivated me to stick it out," Thomas stated. "Back home, I was taught that if you want something badly enough, you will be patient and work hard every day to move closer and closer to achieving your goal."
In November of 2009, Thomas' football future underwent a drastic change.
The hiring of head coach Larry Porter and his staff provided Thomas with the opportunity to compete for a starting job, a chance he had been longing for since coming to the U of M.
"One of the first things that Coach Porter told the team was that there were no guaranteed starters. Everybody was on an even playing field," Thomas said. "All of the positions were up for grabs, so I just tried to embrace the transition and work as hard as I could."
Thomas' hard work paid off in last year's season opener at Mississippi State. Playing a key role in a situational defensive set, Thomas made his first career appearance at linebacker versus the Bulldogs.
The 6-foot, 215-pounder made the most of his long-awaited opportunity, finishing the contest with two tackles and Memphis' only interception of the contest.
"Part of the game plan against Mississippi State was to bring me in on passing situations. All of a sudden on the first series of the game, I jumped an in route and picked off a pass," Thomas recalled. "It was a great moment, and it made me feel like all of the hard work I put in over the years was beginning to pay off."
Thomas went on to become a constant contributor for the Tigers throughout the remainder of the 2010 campaign, appearing in all of the Memphis' 12 contests and finishing the season with two-consecutive starts, including his first career start against UAB.
Thomas made his "Battle for the Bones" start a memorable one.
During the Nov. 20 contest, Thomas recorded 12 total tackles and four tackles for loss. He then went on to finish the first letterwinning season of his career with 37 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and one interception, statistics that ranked him seventh in the Tigers' 2010 total defense.
"Having the opportunity to make a couple of starts last year gave me a lot of confidence, but I don't want to stop there," said Thomas. "I want to use that experience to become an even better player this season."
As training camp concluded this summer, Thomas' name sat at the No. 1 strong-side linebacker spot on Memphis' preseason defensive depth chart.
Encouragement from Thomas' linebacker coach, Galen Scott, has also helped him to grow out of his childhood shyness.
"I've always been somewhat of a shy guy, but working with Coach Scott has helped me to come out of my shell," Thomas stated. "Coach Scott is very high-energy. He is always jumping around and getting everybody pumped up. I just try to bring that same enthusiasm onto the field and get the guys going."
This season, Thomas will put his newfound confidence to good use as a vocal leader of the Tigers' defense.
"Part of my job this season will be to make the pre-snap reads for the defense," said Thomas. "I'll be reading offenses and giving strength calls so that we can create the matchups that we want."
As for Thomas' goal of becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree, he finds himself only two semesters away from graduating with his bachelor's in management information systems.
"Graduating from college will be huge for my family. That's one thing that my mom always wanted for me. Now, that it is so close to happening, she is very proud," said Thomas.
Following the conclusion of his football career, Thomas looks to put his degree to use in the field of computer technology, but for now, he is focused on savoring every moment of his final season of college football.
"Right now, I'm just focused on winning football games," said Thomas. "I don't want to let anything pass me by. I've had the opportunity to go to a bowl game as a Tiger, and that is an experience I want everyone on this team to have."
Looking back on his career at the U of M, Thomas is proud of the journey that he has traveled.
"It's been a long journey and sometimes it was very difficult, but if I had a chance to do it again, I would," said Thomas. "When I look back, I am very proud of the way my career has turned out. I've had the opportunity to make a better life for my family and myself doing something that I love. So, for me, it has definitely been well worth the wait."