The Central High School senior grappler has now completed his final week of practice as a prep wrestler and is focused on leaving it all on the mat this weekend at the GHSA Wrestling Traditional State Tournament in Macon.
Thomas said the realization that it was all coming to an end hit him early this week in the practice room.
“It has. It pushed me a little bit harder. There’s more motivation knowing that I’m not going to be able to come back in the room with the same mentality. I’m sure I’ll come back and help the people behind me, but it won’t be the same,” Thomas said. “It’s been a very motivational week.”
Thomas, wrestling at 152 pounds, opens the eight-man Class AAA bracket today at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinal round against Elliott Raiford of West Hall. Central coach Marcus Marenda said it won’t be an easy match, by any means, but he is confident Thomas can get past Raiford to set up a potential rematch against AAA West Sectional champion Cody Kuhn this evening.
“The kid from West Hall was regarded as a front-runner at various points. We got to scout him when we went down to the state duals and watched and he definitely looks like a very tough kid. He’s got a record of [43-3], so he’s definitely a tough kid,” Marenda said. “I think on his feet he’ll try to hand-fight us and try to get his picks on us. But I think as far as the matchup goes, I believe that we’ve wrestled a tougher schedule and I think that will show itself in the matchup Friday.”
In the upper half of the bracket, the other 152-pound sectional champion — Appling County’s Demarko Dixon — will be the favorite to reach the finals, but Marenda believes the state champion will come from the winner of the semifinal in the lower half.
“So, in my mind, we’re preparing [Thomas] to try to get past that semifinal and then get him ready to not take the final lightly. But I think those are the two best kids [in the bracket],” Marenda said.
Thomas said he’s not looking past his first opponent, but would welcome another crack at Kuhn in the semifinals.
“I know I left a lot of shots out on the mat that I should have finished. But I think with it being state and more being on the line, I think I’ll have the drive to finish those and that way we won’t have to go into an overtime again,” Thomas said.
Marenda said his senior has embodied everything you could ask for in a leader this season, noting that he’s come a long way during the past 12 months.
“At some point over the summer, he decided that he wanted to go out and step forward and take on a leadership role. The guys down at football had wonderful things to say about how much of a turnaround he had from last year to this year. He got from a point from football to wrestling that he did wonders for them on defense, from a football standpoint, and his leadership from linebacker and calling out formations and getting people into positions is something that he didn’t do last year,” Marenda said.
“I think there’s been a great continuation of that from football straight into wrestling. It’s been great carryover. It’s just been a joy to coach him this year and to see how much growth he’s undergone as a young man. It’s been very rewarding to see it happen.”
And after just being happy to be on the state’s biggest stage last year, Thomas enters his final prep tournament with passion and a purpose this time around.
“Last year I remember walking in and looking out and seeing what seemed like millions of people. I was like, ‘Oh, gosh. This is crazy.’ But this year I know what it looks like, I know the environment. This is my last time ever being down there, so that will just be more motivation on top of what I’ve already got,” Thomas said.