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December 18, 2013

Family, friends more important than fame, football for Thomas

By: Jimmy Robertson

Despite the ups and downs, quarterback Logan Thomas has enjoyed his time at Tech and credits his family and friends – many of whom are outside of sports – for helping him along the way

A three-year starter at quarterback, Logan Thomas has set at least nine school records at Tech during his time with the
Hokies, including career marks for passing yards, total offense and touchdown passes.

It’s 7:30 or so in the evening, and a small crowd has gathered at Bull & Bones Brewhaus & Grill, a brewpub with an upscale dining area and also a separate sports bar with a casual dining area. This place, popular with both locals and Tech students, resides in the trendy First & Main shopping area along Blacksburg’s South Main Street.

The clack of billiards balls signifies a game going on. The soft voices emanating from the many flatscreen televisions tell of the latest sports news, and the hum from general conversations permeate throughout the place. It is neither loud nor quiet here.

A group of college students sit at a table, talking and laughing. They seem to be taking a break from academic rigors and social pressures.

In walks a young man, one of commanding presence. He stands at least 6-foot-6 and looks huge. He says hello to a friend at the bar and then joins the group of students at the table. Because of his size and because, as one would correctly surmise, he is an athlete, he looks out of place.

But Logan Thomas isn’t.

Virginia Tech’s quarterback owns just about every school record for a quarterback. He’s thrown for more yards than anyone, has more touchdown passes and has accumulated more yards of offense. He plays in front of thousands every week, and he deals with the emotional swings, the exhilarating highs and the brutal lows.

He could select a depth chart for friends. But Thomas isn’t like that. He casts a wide net for friends, and he feels most relaxed not necessarily when hanging with teammates, but during times like these, the ones at Bull & Bones with just a bunch of ordinary college guys and girls – ones he considers friends. They like him not for what he does each Saturday, but for whom he is during the week. And he likes that about them.

“My best friends don’t even play football,” Thomas said. “That’s who I am. You don’t have to be an athlete to be a good friend of mine.”

Thomas means that. You only need to be around him briefly to see an inherent goodness within him. Sure, that’s probably part of his natural DNA, but hang around young people for any length of time and you see who usually comes from good families and who doesn’t.

Thomas is the child of a single mother, but he also is the child of a family, a great one at that. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins … they all teamed to raise Thomas.

They did a great job, too. Witness his graduating in four years, his play on the field and his voluntary work within the community, and it all provides ample evidence that the family’s efforts were not in vain. But his popularity among wide swaths of diverse people, that may provide the overwhelming evidence.

As Logan Thomas walks into the athletics communications office in the Jamerson Athletics Center, he carries a wary look on his face. This is where he meets reporters wanting to do interviews, and he already knows the questions. He’s answered them all the past two seasons – why is the offense struggling, why have you turned the ball over so much, why can’t you guys run the ball, why this, why that and so on.

He answers as best he can. For some things, he has no answer, and for some, that would be frustrating.

“The frustrating part is losing,” he said. “I hate losing more than anything.”

It wasn’t supposed to go like this, not after his fabulous redshirt sophomore season. Normally, teams get better as quarterbacks grow older and wiser, but nothing has ever been normal for Logan Thomas.

He grew up without his natural father, which goes a long way toward explaining his close relationship with his mother, Kim Tarazona, a former volleyball player at James Madison. For years, it was just the two of them until she married Logan’s stepfather, Eddie Tarazona.

Until that point, she played the obvious role in helping raise him, but so, too, did her family. She worked third shift at a detention center, so she needed – and got – help from her parents [Cliff and Shirley Thomas], her sister [Dina McCray] and her sister’s husband [Charles McCray].

“My grandparents picked me up after school, and then my mom would pick me up,” Thomas said. “She worked third shift, so she would take me to Zack’s [McCray] place, and they [Zack’s parents, Dina and Charles McCray] would take me to school in the morning. That’s how I developed my family and how close we are. My fatherhood came from them two [his grandfather and his mother], and they taught me everything.”

Zack, a tight end on the Hokies’ team, and Logan are biologically cousins. But truthfully, they’re brothers. They lived together, ate together, played together, went to school together and ultimately became great football players at Brookville High School in Lynchburg, Va., together. Even today, they live together as roommates.

Cliff Thomas willingly took on the fatherhood role for Thomas. Cliff looked after his grandson, going to practices and games, talking to him about the importance of getting good grades, and cautioning him to stay away from the perils that tend to gravitate toward young adults (or vice versa). On Sundays, he and his wife saw that Thomas went to church.

“They didn’t make me go,” Thomas said. “That’s just what we did as a family.”

He saved his deepest discussions, though, for his mom, who echoed everything her family told him. He still saves his innermost thoughts for her, most of which he reveals after tough games.

Quarterback Logan Thomas (3) celebrated senior day at Lane Stadium with those closest to him - his family.

Thomas’ natural father eventually wandered back into his life, right around Thomas’ senior year of high school. His father’s daughter and Thomas actually connected first through social media, and then later, father and son connected. The two don’t have the relationship that he and his mother have, and probably never will, but Thomas holds no grudge.

“He’s a good guy. He just wasn’t ready for a child at the time, and that’s why he left,” Thomas said. “He played basketball and was overseas. That’s why he wasn’t around. He wasn’t ready, which is understandable. Now he lives in Maryland and has a daughter of his own, and he’s taking care of her. I think my situation helped him grow up. I have no ill feelings toward him.”

Thomas talks to his father once a week, and his father has seen Thomas play several times. He came down to Blacksburg for Thomas’ senior day game against Maryland. But he was not on the field for the pregame ceremonies.

That time and space was reserved for those especially close to Thomas, the ones who molded him, cared for him and cared about him, the ones who made him into the man he’s become today.

It was a rather large group.

“I turned out just fine, and my family was fine,” Thomas said. “That’s what makes family so important.”

Like all good quarterbacks, Thomas possesses an uncanny ability to put things in the rearview mirror and look ahead, but what transpired Nov. 1 of last year rattled even him.

The Hokies limped to Miami, having lost three of their past four games. They were 4-4 on the season, 2-2 in league play, and needed a win to buoy their sinking Coastal Division title hopes. Tech’s offense, though, felt optimistic about its chances against a young Miami defense.

The Hokies did put up 421 yards, and Thomas scored on a 73-yard run. But he threw two interceptions and fumbled, the fumble coming in the third quarter on a botched exchange with the center at the Miami 2. The Hokies trailed 20-12 at the time. A touchdown there would have flipped momentum. Instead, Tech lost 30-12.

Thomas didn’t talk to anyone for the next 24 hours following the game.

“I took it hard because I didn’t think I had done enough to get the team to win,” he said. “That’s when I was most disappointed (as a player at Tech).”

But Thomas, for whatever his critics say about him, never stays on the mat. He managed to rally Tech to three straight wins to end the season, including a bowl win over Rutgers.

Thomas deserves credit for that, but he doesn’t really want it. Going 7-6 and beating Rutgers in a bowl game wasn’t what he expected, particularly after throwing for more than 3,000 yards and 19 touchdowns (10 interceptions) and rushing for nearly 500 yards and 11 more scores as a redshirt sophomore. He guided Tech to an 11-win season that year, a spot in the ACC Championship Game (the Hokies lost to Clemson) and to an at-large spot in the Sugar Bowl, an excruciating affair in which Tech lost to Michigan in overtime.

“I always have high expectations of myself,” he said. “I expect to play the best and expect to be the best. Therefore, you know, things went well that year [his sophomore year]. We didn’t have much adversity. Don’t know why it hasn’t happened the same way the past couple of years, but I still have that high expectation of myself.”

This year has been equally frustrating, both for Thomas and the Hokies. They played respectably against No. 1 Alabama in the season opener in a loss and then ripped off six straight wins afterward. Given their schedule, they appeared to be in great shape to make the ACC Championship Game. Alas, Tech lost to Duke and at BC. After gaining revenge against Miami in their best performance of the year, the Hokies came back with a clunker, dropping one to Maryland on senior day.

Thomas was asked after the BC loss if he ever wondered about being benched for Mark Leal, given the inconsistency of Tech’s offense. He refused to take the bait, giving a terse, “No comment.”

The question, though, smacks of ignorance. Thomas had accounted for 73 percent of Tech’s yardage heading into the Sun Bowl against UCLA. So bench your best offensive weapon for a guy who has played in seven games in three years?

Thomas’ struggles go back to the struggles of those around him. Two years ago, he played with David Wilson, Danny Coale, Jarrett Boykin and Andre Smith. Three of those four guys still play in the NFL. Tech’s offensive firepower the past two years has fizzled since that quartet left.

Yet Thomas points no fingers.

“Last year we had the up-and-down season. This year, we’ve had losses that we shouldn’t have to teams that aren’t better than us,” Thomas said. “For me, I think that’s preparing me for something bigger down the road – knowing how to bounce back from a loss and dealing with a situation that isn’t ideal. I think God is putting me through this to see how I’m going to react and to prepare me for my future whether it’s on the field or off.”

Tech’s bowl game will mark the last game of Thomas’ career. It will be the 46th game in which he’s played at Tech, 40 of them starts. Then he heads off to prepare for the NFL, where opinions vary wildly on when he gets drafted.

He eschewed that opportunity a year ago, returning to Tech for his senior season after head coach Frank Beamer named Scot Loeffler the offensive coordinator. Loeffler possesses NFL coaching experience and educated Thomas on what it takes to succeed as an NFL quarterback. Thomas’ mechanics and fundamentals are much better now than a year ago, and more importantly, he mentally understands how to prepare for an opponent.

“It was the best decision I could have made,” he said.

Thomas will depart with at least nine school records. That alone makes him worthy of Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame consideration when his class becomes eligible in 2023. An ACC title eluded him, though, and that will gnaw at him.

Just what will Thomas’ legacy be? It’s an interesting question for Tech fans. Opinions probably vary, though most fans respect him for being such a good ambassador for the school – one willing to speak to groups of young people within the community and for good-naturedly providing autographs and photo opportunities.

“I guess it’s not really up to me how people portray me,” he said. “I think a lot of people know that I’ve given everything I can possibly give. I hold however many records there is. I’m not as bad of a football player as people say I am. There have been a lot of great players come through here, and I don’t compare myself to anyone else. I’ll let everyone else do the comparing.

“I just want to be remembered as someone who gave it all every single play and wasn’t afraid to back down from anything. I might not have been loved the entire time, but I think people will look back and see that I wasn’t as bad as they thought.”

Only a vocal minority foolishly considers him a bad player. Knowledgeable Tech fans appreciate and respect the way he’s played the past four years. They admire that he got his degree in human development in four years and are proud that he plans on working with teenage kids should the NFL not work out for him.

All his friends – and there is a significant group of them – like, appreciate, respect and admire him, too. Albeit for a different reason.

They see him for who he really is. That guy who hangs out with them at Bull & Bones, well, he’s just like them.