The Grind ft. Terry Thomas, Jr.
More Than An Athlete: Can’t Bend, Don’t Fold
by Caleb Smith
Twenty-six tackles paired with 1.5 sacks, being named a starter at defensive end as a true freshman, defensive player of the game, and a returning letter winner could appear to be the components of a dominant football player. But what if I told you that these statistics revealed only a small portion of what this student-athlete has to offer?
Terry Thomas is an ambitious individual who possesses a ravenous appetite for greatness. He refuses to live within the comforts of complacency or simply to be known as “just an athlete.” Hence, he is determined to excel beyond his obligations of being a student-athlete through living by the motto of “Can’t bend, Don’t fold.”
During his time at Georgia State University, Terry has been admitted into the Honors College, the 1913 Society, the Sun-Belt Conference Honor Roll, College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s List, and he is also part of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.
With such a hectic schedule, having a keen sense of time management is a must.
Terry’s daily regimen typically begins bright and early at 6 a.m. with morning workouts. Following workouts, Terry grabs a bite to eat for breakfast, and then it’s back to football.
When Terry and his teammates first arrive at the football facility, they begin their film session with their position coaches. Throughout the film session, Terry studies how he can improve his game while getting some pointers from his coaches.
Once the film session ends, Terry hits the practice field.
On a usual day, practice is from noon to 1 p.m. Right after practice, Terry heads to campus for class until 7 p.m. After class, Terry begins his evening extracurricular activities.
As a member of the Student-Athlete Action Committee (SAAC), Terry leads panel discussions that specifically focus on athletes being aware of their mental health.
Terry also dedicates his time and efforts to the 1913 Society, where he serves as a student ambassador for the office of Georgia State President Mark Becker.
Whether hosting an event for the 1913 Society, mentoring his younger teammates, attending meetings for SAAC, or speaking to youth football teams, Terry’s daily pursuit of success is never-ending.
“Unlike how it was in high school, college football is 24/7. So, the schedule of a student-athlete is very demanding, which comes with many responsibilities,” Terry said. “It requires a lot of discipline and focus. So every year, I make sure that I create a healthy balance of being both a student and an athlete. I make sure that I constantly step out of my comfort zone— if it’s joining different student organizations or becoming more active on campus, I want to keep pushing myself.”
While having the chance to chill with Terry, one of the first questions that I asked was exactly what you may be thinking, “How do you find time for all of this, and what motivates you?”
After hearing my question, Terry laughed and told me that he often asks himself the same question from time to time, but he knows where he wants to go and eventually who he wants to become.
Terry’s Plan A has never been to make it to the NFL. Instead, Terry has used his athletic talents as a way to earn an athletic scholarship to attend college, while being able to strive in not only the athletic arena but also within academia.
Throughout our conversation, he expressed that his Plan A is to attend medical school and potentially work in health care like his parents. His mother is a nurse practitioner, and his father has been an occupational therapist for more than 20 years.
From his adolescent years until today, Terry’s parents and his community instilled in him the importance of being multidimensional. If it regarded exposing him to the arts, literature, sports, or medicine, the mission was to make sure that he learned that he could become anyone who he wanted to be.
One of the most unforgettable experiences for Terry was when he sprained his ankle playing Pop Warner Football. While Terry’s ankle was being treated by a local sports therapist, Terry said he though, “I was blown away by how someone could work within the medical field while also being around sports.”
Terry exclaimed that ever since that day he was “hooked” on science. As a result of Terry’s passion, he was determined to excel on the football field as well as do his thing in the classroom.
Terry expressed that one of the ways that he remains focused on his goals is by writing down what he has to get done on his personal whiteboard.
Terry breaks this down into a four-step process:
- Think of a new goal, both long term and short term.
- Next, write the goals down on the whiteboard.
- While in the process of accomplishing the set goals, constantly look at the written goals for motivation and visualize yourself conquering the challenge.
- When the goal is accomplished, check it off on the whiteboard. Now, it’s back to square one; time to accomplish a more challenging set of goals.
“I love a challenge, and I approach each day with an attitude of attacking the day. I want to be great, and I love the process of getting better,” stated Terry.
From Terry’s undying desire to achieve greatness, he has learned that adversity only makes him better. Because of his strong mindset, he was able to rise to the occasion every time that an unexpected obstacle came his way.
During our conversation, Terry told me a story of when his strong mindset was put to the test like never before.
He failed his first anatomy test of the semester this past year. Due to Terry being the competitor that he is, as well as being an honors student, he began to stress out about not doing well in his class.
As a biology major, Terry needed to master his anatomy class. The pressure was on.
But during his time of uncertainty, he was able to lean on a consistent component in his life—his family.
Terry exclaimed, “Man, I remembered I called my dad near tears. I was so stressed, I thought I was going to most likely finish the class with a C or a B at best.
“But through it all,” Terry added, “my dad kept me calm and told me that I got this. Once I got off the phone I remembered my motto, ‘Can’t bend, Don’t fold.’”
Terry would later finish the semester with an A in his anatomy course.
By responding to adversity with a positive attitude, even when the situation doesn’t look good, Terry leads by example among his peers.
“When people look at me and especially my teammates, I want for them to see me stand out in the classroom,” he said. “I want for them to see me stand out on the field, so then they can say, ‘If T can do it, why can’t I do the same.’ We can all be great, and I want to show the people around me that, with focus and hard work, you can do anything that you set your mind to.”
In closing, Terry’s story connects with all of us. As young college students, we have so much to offer. Sometimes, we may label ourselves just by what we see initially, but we must understand that there is always so much more than what meets the eye. I hope that Terry’s story serves as a lesson and inspiration to us all that we are multi-layered and have the power to lead by example.
By learning from the stories of others, we become more knowledgeable about our similarities, which then leads to us appreciating our diversity as a student body even more.
We are innovators. We are leaders. We are trailblazers. We are a family. We are Georgia State.