At the time, he was a soccer star at South Gwinnett, but the football team needed a place-kicker. Thomas’ older brother had given it a shot, so when football coach John Small asked Griffin to try booting some field goals, he said, “Why not?”
Although South Gwinnett posted only a 4-6 record, Thomas proved himself as a bright light. In his lone year on the gridiron for South Gwinnett, he kicked 49 extra points and seven field goals, including a long of 48 yards. He was Gwinnett County’s special teams player of the week three times and made the county all-star game.
It led to a scholarship at Jacksonville State – for football, not soccer. Along the way, Thomas has developed into a dependable kicker for the Gamecocks.
“I had no idea it would turn into this,” the soft-spoke Thomas said after practice recently. “I just thought I was helping out my high school team. But when I started getting recognized with the county awards, I thought it could be something more.”
At JSU, he has moved up the ladder gradually. He served as the kickoff specialist for his freshman and sophomore years before taking over the place-kicking duties last season as a junior.
He had some rough spots, such as missing all three field goals against Eastern Illinois and two against Florida.
But otherwise, he provided the Gamecocks with a kicker who wouldn’t fold when the team needed it most.
He beat Chattanooga with a 37-yard field goal on the last play of the game. Later, he hit a 44-yarder in overtime to beat Tennessee State. And in a 38-35 win over Murray State, he kicked a 38-yarder with fewer than nine minutes to play. That stood up as the game-winner, as no more points were scored the rest of the way.
So, now Thomas is no longer a rookie coming in off the soccer field. He is a proven kicker who is one of the team’s most experienced players.
“It’s huge to have a guy who’s been in those situations,” JSU coach Bill Clark said. “He’s been in the wars. He has a very business-like attitude. He’s even-keeled. That’s what you want in a kicker.”
As far as those game-winners, Thomas said he isn’t thinking about those as he goes through August practice.
“I try to forget about kicks in the past and focus on the next one,” he said. “It’s the next one that matters.”
Thomas said he got that philosophy from Heath Thomas, who is a defensive graduate assistant. He also works closely with the place-kickers, and Griffin Thomas said he’s glad for the help.
He added the specialists didn’t have a kicking coach in the past.
“The main thing Coach Thomas has emphasized is that whether you make it or miss it, the kick that matters is the next one,” he said.