By Grant Dovey for MSNsportsNET.com
May 2, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Leadership is a trait that oftentimes can be carried through bloodlines. It is something that you either have or you don’t. If that holds true, the West Virginia linebacker corps shouldn’t have a problem deciphering who their leader is this fall - senior J.T. Thomas.
“This year it seems that the title has been bestowed on me, but I feel that I have already been a leader here,” Thomas said. “Even when I was a junior, I was the kind of guy to lead the team. I was less spoken then and more spoken now and I like the role, and so far this spring it has been working well.”
Thomas has learned well from his father, also J.T., a two-year starting linebacker and leading tackler from 1994-95 for West Virginia who today has become a leader within the Morgantown community.
“He resembles me so much it's almost scary. For him to be as young as he is - to be in the leadership group his senior year - I think he understands how important it is to lead by example,” the elder Thomas said. “His play has gotten a lot better, which makes his team play a lot better and more so than anything, I try to get him to understand that he has to feed off the players that are around him.
“Those are the things I brought to the game when I played,” he added. “I knew that I may not have been the fastest player, but I knew I was going to go out there and rally my guys to play a complete game. He has those components.”
Because of the fact that the elder Thomas is only 15 years older than his son, J.T. III has grown up with the Old Gold and Blue in his blood and it was almost an unwritten rule that J.T. III would someday be a Mountaineer, too.
“I loved just being around the stadium, let alone in the stadium. I developed that love for West Virginia a long time ago,” the younger Thomas said. “I don't know if coach (Jeff) Casteel remembers me, but I remember him vividly. He was working with the safeties in the camp and I was a safety then. He would watch me do a few things and told me he would keep in touch and the first day of spring my junior year, coach Calvin Magee was down at my high school waiting to see me.”
The paths, however, were different for father and son. Dad J.T. took the junior college route through Fort Scott Community College.
“When I played we had several junior college players and I see that they have a few here and there, but when I played it was essential to get a few junior college players to come in and make an impact right away,” Thomas said. “The good thing was West Virginia recruited me early on and steered me to that junior college and they came back and got me. I showed loyalty by coming in early and getting my diploma.”
With dad left Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to head to college when J.T. was only two years old, it was tough to create a traditional father-son bond. That has led to a rather unique relationship.
“I was in and out of J.T.’s life for being involved in college, although I spent all of my spring breaks and holidays with him,” dad said. “When he had the opportunity to be around me every day, he realized I wasn’t his homeboy, I was his father and when he had issues, we dealt with issues. When he had problems, we dealt with problems and he knows that I’m here for him.”
Thomas has grown to understand the difference between being friends and being a father and son.
“He's not my homeboy, he's my dad, but he's a real cool dad,” J.T. said. “He's not out of this realm, he's knows what's going on and it's good to have someone know what's going on in the present and not always referring to what happened in the past.”
With dad working for Mylan Pharmaceuticals and being a member of numerous civic organizations, in addition to raising a family with his wife Rochelle, son J.T. has found another place to call home with a great support group.
“It's sweet. It's unlike anything else,” said J.T. “To have the comfort of home right here at college, yet still have my dad give me the space I need to be a college student, it's been a great couple of years.”
The couple also provides J.T. a place to stay when times start to get rough throughout the season and offseason.
“It’s a good thing for him because my wife cooks him dinner pretty often and every once in a while during camp he has a place to come lay his head,” dad says. “The fact that he has three younger siblings is great because he gets to come and spend time with them.”
The elder Thomas has three kids Jared, A.J. and Raquel living here in Morgantown. J.T. has become sort of a mentor to his special needs six-year-old brother, Jared, helping with Jared’s therapy. The family has seen an incredible jump in Jared socially in the past six months.
“He’s been real verbal and J.T. would pick him up and they would go to movies and he’d have him around the other players and a lot of guys on the team have gotten to know him,” dad said. “It’s just been a positive thing for my family and his brother.”
For Thomas, Jared has had a huge influence on how he lives his day-to-day life and his don’t-sweat-the-small-things mentality.
“For me to brighten up his day is really just doing me a favor, he really lightens my day,” said J.T. “It put things in perspective for me. If my brother can get up every day and be happy, there shouldn't be anything I can't deal with because he's dealing with so much.”
Now as Thomas enters his senior season, he looks to his future and who he wants to live his life like.
“My dad is a guy of family and faith and he lives right,” Thomas says. “I'll always have a tie to West Virginia. This will be my alma mater and I'll always come back and call West Virginia home. They say, 'Once a Mountaineer, Always a Mountaineer' and that's how I feel.”
His father echoes J.T. sentiments.
“West Virginia was good to me. I only went to school here for two years, but those two years I met some remarkable people,” he said. “The people I met really helped me shape my life - really to teach me how to go out and fish as opposed to having to beg for fish and asking other people how to fish. They taught me how to do it.”