By Hunter Reid
Special to College Sports Journal
Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on the Furmanpaladins.com website and is used by permission.
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Much has been written regarding the unique culture of high school football, where fans gather weekly under the lights to cheer on the pride of town and county. In fact, there’s probably some truth to the long-standing belief that a small town burglar’s best chance of success lay on Friday evenings when the citizenry’s attention is mostly focused elsewhere.
For Furman senior cornerback Reggie Thomas the experience of playing for Abbeville High School, a 545-student member of South Carolina Class AA, was no different than many other prep football performers from towns where the number of street lights could be counted on one hand. The enthusiastic support of family and friends was present but so was something else that was as much a part of Thomas as his shoulder pads, helmet, and chin strap — a deeply rooted winning tradition.
“Everybody pretty much loves football down there (in Abbeville),” said Thomas prior to Thursday’s practice. “Growing up there, I always looked up to the older guys, so when I got my chance to play in high school I fell in love with the game and enjoyed the success. It felt real good being there and having that fan base and crowd supporting us for four years.”
Thomas is the latest in a long line of small town Palmetto state products who have distinguished themselves at Furman, a list that includes defensive ends Wallace Artis (Calhoun Falls) and Josh Lynn (Great Falls), wide receiver Des Kitchings (Wagner), linebacker Cedrick Ritter (Allendale), wide receiver Josh Stepp (Pelion), and tight end Luther Broughton (Cainhoy), just to name a few.
With a population of 5,327 according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Abbeville is steeped in history dating back to before the American Revolution and claims United States Vice President John C. Calhoun, “The Great Nullifier”, as a native son. It’s also long been the home to winning football as its six state football championships attest.
Thomas played a role in Abbeville’s last two state crowns, helping the Panthers to back-to-back 13-1 seasons and titles in both 2010 and ‘11 while playing cornerback, safety, and wide receiver. As a senior he racked up 55 tackles, four interceptions, and 15 pass deflections on the way to earning all-state honors and an invitation to play in South Carolina’s North-South All-Star Game, where he teamed up with then-Greer quarterback Reese Hannon to key the North squad to a 42-3 rout in the annual classic.
A pair of state championships and all-state recognition earned Thomas the attention of college recruiters, with two of his chief pursuers coming from the Upstate. After first committing to Wofford, Thomas visited Furman and had a change of heart.
“Wofford was on me heavy. I committed to them, but things changed following my visit here. After spending some time around the players and coaches, I just felt a better vibe, so I decided to come here. It was a good decision.”
Paladin fans most certainly agree.
Only three games into his true freshman season in 2012 Thomas found himself in the starting lineup against Clemson, totaling four tackles against the Tigers and his first collegiate interception, which he returned 27 yards. He went on to register nine starts that season was named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team.
The following year he played a pivotal role in Furman’s defense, which paved the way for the Paladins’ march to the program’s 13th Southern Conference championship and FCS playoff appearance. Among his sophomore season highlights were a 10-tackle performance in a 27-10 win over Appalachian State, a 74-yard interception return for a touchdown against 13th-ranked LSU, and a five-tackle outing in Furman’s 27-14, SoCon title clinching victory over Wofford.
Thomas’ performance in 2014 mirrored the squad’s disappointing, injury-riddled 3-9 record, but starts in all 12 games and second team All-SoCon honors added to his notable collegiate resume. His now-37 consecutive starts and proven ability make him Furman’s most experienced player — assets head coach Bruce Fowler likes in the veteran defensive back, who has eight tackles, a forced fumble, and a pass deflection in the Paladins’ first two games this fall.
“Reggie is off to a great start. He’s a competitive guy, so it’s great to see him re-ignited this year,” said Fowler on Thursday. “I’m really proud of him and how he’s responded. He has a lot of physical ability…he runs well, is athletic, and he’s smart, and he has that competitive edge back.”
Sizing up his own current status, Thomas says he’s come a long way in four years, from the role of follower to leader.
“I feel like I’ve matured a great deal since I got here. As a freshman it was hard trying to keep everything together, but I had guys I looked up to help me out, so now I can work with our freshmen and help them. It’s good to be a senior.”
While his role as a mentor to his younger teammates is paying dividends, the health sciences major’s decision to become a Paladin has also been a winner in his family’s eyes.
“It (Furman) is only an hour and 30 minutes away (from Abbeville), so my family comes up for every game. It’s easy for them to come check me out. I also have family in Florida, so Saturday’s game at UCF…I should have a lot of family there
cheering us on.”