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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