I’ll never forget the moment when my positions coach told me I would never play a snap of college football for him again. I still remember every emotion that went through me when those words hit.
How could I forget?
I was shocked and angry. But most of all, I was hurt, man.
Those words hurt my heart because I’ve never had a coach tell me that before. Deep down, the real reason why those words cut so deeply is because he wasn’t wrong.
If I continued going down the road I was going down, I would have never played another snap of college football.
The University of Memphis is a special place because it’s all about grinding.
Everything we have was earned—the nice facility, top-notch equipment, and incredible stadium. All of that stuff was earned by the guys before us.
And now, we have to go out there every single day and earn that privilege ourselves.
Sink or swim
Since arriving here, I had to give my everything day in and day out.
I tore my ACL in my last game in high school, after I’d already committed.
I grew up here, and my mom played basketball at the University of Memphis back in the days.
I don’t know, man—there was just something special about carrying on that legacy and playing at a school close enough where my family and friends could come see me compete. That was always a big thing for me.
But that injury nearly ruined everything.
It was devastating.
College is a different beast when it comes to competition, man, especially at the Division I level. Everybody is a top-tier athlete out there. So I did whatever I could to bounce back through rehab, but I was still kind of gimpy by the time fall camp came around.
Coming off an injury like that one in a new and more challenging environment, you just lose a lot of your confidence, you know?
You kind of lose a step.
I was thrown into my first game against UCONN.
I just remember being on the sidelines and my coach saying, “Thomas, you’re in!”
I was like, “Wait, what?”
I wasn’t in shape yet, and I was about to get thrown out there to the wolves. But do you want to know the craziest part?
He threw me out there in the first quarter, and somehow, someway, I ended up playing for just about the entire game. Granted, I didn’t play very well because I wasn’t physically ready for that moment, but there was no backing down from the situation.
It was sink or swim.
Coming to a crossroads
My playing time decreased after the UConn and I was even taken off special teams shortly after.
Honestly, that was when I thought about leaving Memphis.
I made up in my mind that the coaches there didn’t really care about me.
It was just this fast downward spiral. So I decided to have a conversation with my former positions coach, Joe Lorig, about why I wasn’t playing.
That meeting changed everything.
I came in thinking he didn’t care, but he looked me right in the eyes and told me I looked like the one that didn’t care. He said I didn’t really put in the work, and I was just going through the motions when I came into the building—that I was just there to be there.
With that attitude, he told me, “You’ll never play again.”
The tears obviously came, but there was also a lesson behind all of it.
Football isn’t just about athleticism, but it’s also about playing your role and having those coaches have that trust in you.
Just acting like you want to be there and embracing every moment—that’s what it means to be a good player and an even better teammate.
I didn’t run away from the challenge.
Instead, I wanted to show that I could play for Coach Lorig again, and that’s exactly what I did.
By the time spring rolled around, I was told that every coach in the building voted me as the most improved player on the team.
Everybody out here is a great athlete and player at this level, but it’s all about the smarts, man. It’s all about understanding and showing that effort out there on the field every chance you get.
My time to earn it
The first full year that I started, we won the AAC Championship over Cincinnati and got to compete in the Cotton Bowl against Penn State.
Those are two of my favorite memories during my time here at Memphis.
We were at the pinnacle.
Make no mistake, the goals for this program haven’t changed. We’re still here to win football games. We just have to take things week by week, you know?
This week, the goal is to beat Navy.
I do have my own personal goals as well, even though I really try not to focus on them too much.
I want to be All-Conference.
We’ve had a lot of great linebackers here, as well as players at other positions, that don’t really get the acknowledgement they deserve because of where we’re at.
I’d love to be one of the ones to continue to help break that mold.
But honestly, man, I’m just glad to be out there competing with my brothers on the field. Between my knee injury and meeting with Coach Lorig, so many things could have gone differently in my life if I never accepted those challenges head-on.
You know, I really have to credit my dad for instilling me with that motivation and confidence.
No matter where I am in life, I can always hear him in the back of my head saying, “You can do this. I know what kind of player you are.”
He always pushed me to be great.
It’s just in me, you know? It’s something I realized I lacked at one point, but the truth is I’ve always had it in me. I just had to dig deeper and decide what I really wanted.
I’m not sure how much longer this football journey will last. Like any other player, I have aspirations to play in the NFL, but I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting to fall back on if things don’t work out.
Football has to end someday, and we all have to go out into the real world.
But I could walk away knowing I left no stone unturned and gave it everything I had.
Just like every other Memphis player before me, I could walk away knowing I helped earn it.