The Wolfpacker

Nov-Dec 2021

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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Page 19 of 51

20 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY MATT CARTER C State head coach Dave Doeren is a big believer in live evaluations of high school football players, so it is not unusual to see him on the sidelines for a Fri- day night game. One of Doeren's favorite stories is about the time he watched Heritage and Sanderson, a pair of Raleigh-area high schools, play each other when the two teams were loaded with prospects. It was at that game Doeren learned that current Wolfpack sophomore linebacker and former Heritage star Drake Thomas' older brother Thayer was a good receiver, and thus began the process of finding a way to get Thayer to campus in what became one of the better walk-on suc- cess stories in NC State football history. Doeren also remembered that Drake was living up to his hype at linebacker. "He was a violent hitter in high school," Doeren recalled. "I told him [that]. I went and watched them play. They played Sand- erson that game, and he was knocking the living hell out of people. "I was like, 'Man this guy's violent,' and he's been that way since he got here." Learning how to be a good tackler is a must to be a successful college defender. Doeren said Thomas was already that way when he arrived at NC State. To be a good tackler, one must be tough and willing to embrace the physicality. For Thomas, whose earliest memories of foot- ball date back to when he was 4 years old, the latter was never a problem. "I don't think I ever really had a mental block when it came to the physicality of the game," he noted. "As soon as I started playing tackle, I loved to hit. It's just some- thing I've always taken pride in, just like a toughness thing. "I think my dad instilled that in me, and the importance of it when you're playing the game, just going out there and being the toughest guy. No matter who you're lining up against, just bring it every single time." Thomas' father, Trevor, was a star offen- sive lineman at Marshall. Of the Thomas brothers — which also includes Heritage junior and future NC State quarterback Lex — Drake may closest resemble his father physically. That explains how Drake ended up at linebacker, while Thayer and Lex are on offense. "I feel like it's just more body types," Drake noted. "For me and Thayer, at least, I was always a little bit stockier. I liked the physicality of the game. Thayer was always slimmer and faster, more the finesse and fast guy. So it's kind of just like what posi- tions fit us well." Growing up, Thomas would often wear No. 54, the number of Chicago Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, also known for his tough, physical brand of football. However, he was not willing to shave his head to copy Urlacher's famous bald look. Instead, since the sixth grade, when Thomas grew his hair out, he's worn it long. That look was well known on the recruit- ing trail. Thomas received his first recruiting letter from Florida State when he was 15, and he became heavily targeted across the country. He can remember being impressed with Michigan and also experiencing the "College GameDay" atmosphere at Virginia Tech when the Hokies hosted Clemson. Yet the memories from that time that may stick out most were watching NC State beat Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville, and taking Clemson to the wire in the fall of 2017. In the summer of 2018, Thomas would commit to NC State. "I really was interested in other schools," he insisted. "At the end of the day, I was trying to find the right fit for myself. And my family knew that, and they fully sup- ported me. They didn't push me to do any- thing that I didn't want to do. "I made the choice to come here because I felt like it was the best fit for me. And it was. Obviously, up to this point, I think it's been a pretty good fit." Thomas figured out he belonged fairly quickly. Ironically, it was a tackle that did it. The first time he lined up in a live scrim- mage in the spring of 2019, his first hit made him realize he belonged. Thomas became a full-time starter in 2020 and had 58 tackles in 10 games. Not well known was that during the season, Thomas was twice told his year was over. He had a torn pec that needed surgery once the reg- ular season was finished. That helped motivate Thomas to get his body in maximum shape entering this fall. With a heavy focus on making a total com- mitment to a healthy diet, a slimmer, leaner Thomas led the Pack in tackles (38) and inter- ceptions (two) at the bye week. H e h a s a l s o been elevated into a team captain role after the season-ending injury to Thomas' fellow linebacker Payton Wilson, a redshirt sophomore. It's probably a very similar career path to what Doeren anticipated when watching the high school version of Thomas play. "He's a contact football player, and he's good in space," Doeren said. "He can change direction. He's under control be- cause he runs through people. "He is one of the better fundamental linebackers I've been around." ■ N SURE TACKLER Sophomore Linebacker Drake Thomas Impresses With His Physicality And Toughness

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