By D.E. Connors
On the gridiron, Phillip Thomas provides the Syracuse Orange defense with a hard-hitting, emotional leader.
This past season, Thomas ranked ninth among Big East defenders with 92 tackles and started all 13 games.
His leadership and intensity changed the attitude of Syracuse football - an improving program coming off its best season since before the Greg Robinson era.
But it’s what he has experienced off the field that makes Phillip Thomas a special person and athlete.
When he was 5, his mother died. Only two years later, his father, who never played a prominent role in his life, passed away.
Growing up in the rough neighborhoods of Miami, Florida without parents was tough for Thomas. Without a father figure or caring mother, Thomas struggled in school. He was constantly getting in trouble and didn’t attain good grades.
School was the least of his problems, though. At some points in his early life, Thomas faced homelessness.
For the kids in his area under similar circumstances, there were only two ways out of the tough city - the military or college, according to Thomas’ childhood friend, Alexis Moore.
With this in mind, Thomas changed his ways. By the end of junior year at Miami Edison Senior High School, Thomas had turned a complete 180. He improved his GPA, behaved in school and fielded football scholarship offers from Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Colorado State and Syracuse.
At Syracuse, Thomas, a soon to be junior, has completed his transformation from his days as a troublemaker without a home.
“Thomas has come a long way from running the streets, skipping school, and hanging with the wrong crowd,” Moore said.
Thomas has keyed many big plays for the Orange secondary, and was recently called the seventh best player in the Big East, according to the National Football Authority.
He has also continued to improve in the classroom. Thomas now earns mostly B’s and is dedicated to his Child and Family Studies major.
Thomas has spent many weekends working with charities across the Northeast, including the Association to Benefit Children, the Coalition for the Homeless, St. John’s Community Services and the Volunteers of America.
“I really like helping out kids that were in the same situation I was in - homeless and fighting to live,” Thomas said. “ I will do anything for anyone not to live how I did growing up.”
Most people with such a humbling and troublesome past would put it behind them once they sniff success. But not here, not Phillip Thomas.
The past is his motivation; it’s what keeps him going. He knows what success is like, his mentors, Philadelphia Eagles’ Michael Vick and Desean Jackson, have given him a glimpse of the NFL life.
But for now, Thomas is focused on the season ahead and the lofty goals he has set for himself and his team.
“I’m ready to make a bigger name of Syracuse Football and myself,” Thomas said. “Don’t call me cocky when I say we’re going 12-0, but I predict a perfect season.”
Photo Given to us by Phillip Thomas.