Like Thomas, like son
MCT REGIONAL NEWS
By Drew Rubenstein
The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
Dec. 26--ORLANDO, Fla. -- WVU senior linebacker J.T. Thomas III and his father, J.T. Thomas Jr., enjoy joking that their lives have run similar paths.
There are obvious things: They've both been linebackers for the Mountaineers.
There are traditions: They are members of the same fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.
And there are silly random coincidences: Each drove a black Ford Explorer during college.
They talk alike and have similar personalities.
"It's funny because our lives have run parallel," Thomas Jr. said. "We do everything the same," Thomas III added.
There's one more thing the father-son duo will add to the list Tuesday night, when the Mountaineers play N.C. State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
They'll both have played in the same postseason game. Sort of.
When Thomas Jr. was a junior, in 1994, the Mountaineers lost to South Carolina in the Carquest Bowl. Five name changes and a move from Miami to Orlando later, that game has become the Champs Sports Bowl.
"That's crazy. Just about everything that has happened over the course of my career has happened once or twice to my dad," Thomas III said. "He tries to warn me the best he can and guide me, but a lot of times I have to learn by myself and bump my own head, which is sad, but it's good to have someone who has already done it. He's already been there and I can always talk to him when I need some help, and it's great to have a dad like that."
What's more remarkable is how WVU earned its bowl berths in those two years. In both 1994 and 2010, the Mountaineers relied on a Thomas to push them from their breaking point to a strong finish.
In 1994, WVU was 1-4 but wound up winning six of its last seven regular-season games to finish 7-5 and with a bowl berth.
This season, Thomas III helped lead No. 22 WVU (9-3) from a 5-3 and 1-2 lastplace start in the Big East to four straight wins, a share of the conference title and the Champs Sports Bowl invitation.
"I remember we needed to beat Syracuse in the last game of the 1/819943/8 season to go to the Carquest Bowl, and me and a bunch of the leaders on defense took the guys into the showers to talk," Thomas Jr. said. "By the time I was done talking to them, everyone was crying and there was no doubt we were going to win that game."
The Mountaineers did upset No. 22 Syracuse, 13-0, before falling to USC, 24-21, in the bowl.
Stepping up at right time
Thomas Jr. still takes pride in playing a significant hand in rallying WVU that season. He said he has an innate leadership quality that he's happily seen come out in his son this year.
The two had a number of heart-to-heart chats after the Mountaineers dropped two straight, to Syracuse and Connecticut, in October. Thomas Jr. could see his son's frustration through the defeats, as he wondered out loud what more the defense could do.
The elder Thomas corrected those thoughts immediately, reminding his son that the defense wasn't producing points and was settling for being the best defense in the Big East instead of shooting for being the top unit in the country. Thomas Jr. told his son the team needed a leader, not a complainer.
Teammates have credited Thomas III, who has 63 tackles, for saying the right words in the locker room at the opportune time.
In reality, he was reminded of the book on leadership his father gave him as a freshman.
"I told J.T. when he was 15 that he had the qualities to be a great leader," Thomas Jr. said. "Kids always drew to him and gravitated toward him. But I told him to be a great leader is more than having kids who want to be your friends. You've got to listen and sacrifice it all for your team. That's what he's done."
Leading by actions
WVU head coach Bill Stewart agrees, but he said Thomas' impact goes well beyond the words he speaks.
"J.T. Thomas has been a very powerful leader for us," Stewart said. "He's not only done it by his voice. You know, anyone can talk, but the guys who do it on the field, the guys who have been nicked, the guys who have been injured and fight through every day pain and work through it, that's how leaders emerge."
Thomas has had pain in his neck all season and has worn a protective piece chosen by head trainer Dave Kerns. It was an issue throughout preseason, but Thomas has not once missed a play or complained about the discomfort.
"But he just played. The kid just worked hard," Stewart said. "When people see that, they get excited and rally behind a warrior type of person, but he's not just been talking it, but living it and showing it and has done it for four years."
Bucking the trend?
Watching this WVU football season has been like reliving history for Thomas Jr. He just hopes his son bucks the trend this time around by closing his career with a victory, against N.C. State (8-4), on Tuesday night.
"More than anything else, he's just been so involved with this team," Thomas Jr. said. "At some point, with most teams, guys will start thinking about themselves, especially those guys that they may make it in the NFL. He's never done that. He's always turned inward toward his team. He's always worked to rally his team for a cause."
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