Charlie Thomas looks back on his career and his near transfer

Among other things, Georgia Tech linebacker Charlie Thomas will end his career as a respected teammate, an All-ACC candidate, an NFL draft prospect and the holder of a business administration degree.

As he looked back this week at his five-year run as a Yellow Jacket, the accomplishments served as a reminder of the path he took to reach this point.

“It feels great to actually be here and be in this position,” Thomas said. “I can honestly say I didn’t think I would be here – at this school, anyways – a couple years ago. Finishing out here with all the people I love and trust, I couldn’t feel better.”

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Thomas has benefited from his decision to utilize his extra COVID year and play a fifth season, as have the Jackets. He has been a dynamic playmaker who, going into the weekend’s games, was fifth in the ACC with 9.5 tackles per game despite having missed the first halves of two of his 11 games and one additional quarter because he was serving two targeting suspensions.

His compilation of statistics reflects his impact and versatility on the field – 104 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Through last week, he was the only FBS player this season to have hit those numbers in his team’s first 11 games and only the second player to have done so since 2000. He has been a critical piece of the puzzle for defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker, whose defense has improved from 116th in FBS in yards-per-play (6.61) last year to tied for 62nd (5.48), according to cfbstats.

Highlights include a game-changing play against Pittsburgh, recovering a fumble and returning it 43 yards to set up Tech’s go-ahead field goal in the 26-21 upset. In the win at Virginia Tech, Thomas had a career-high 16 tackles and forced a fumble in the final minute that helped seal the game.

Those moments and others almost never happened, however.

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At Syracuse in 2020, the Jackets turned the ball over five times and lost 37-20 in what would prove to the Orange’s only win of the season. One lowlight for Tech was a 43-yard Syracuse touchdown pass in which a slot receiver easily got past Thomas, playing as a slot corner, in one-on-one coverage.

“It kind of hurt deep, because I always thought so highly of myself, and it kind of humbled me,” Thomas said.

Thomas had reason to take pride. In 2018, newly arrived from Thomasville High, he was the rare freshman smart and talented enough to start six games and play in 10. His versatility has enabled him to play all over the field. In 2020 alone, besides nickel back, he also played linebacker and defensive end.

But getting so overmatched by the Orange led him to questioning himself and even his place at Tech, he said.

“I was thinking about transferring all the time and stuff like that,” Thomas said.

The transfer portal would have made a departure easy, and the number of success stories of players who’ve benefited from transferring (including several of Thomas’ teammates) is proof that transferring is often the right move. But Thomas chose to stay. His perspective changed with help from Thacker and then-coach Geoff Collins.

“Coach Collins and coach ‘Thack,’ they were some great mentors and they guided me,” Thomas said. “And they guided me to the person I am today. I can honestly say I think differently, I respond to things differently, I do a lot of stuff differently.”

Saturday’s game against No. 1 Georgia in Athens could well be the final game of Thomas’ career. For it to continue, Tech needs to win to upset the Bulldogs to earn bowl eligibility or else hope that not all of the bowl slots are filled with six-win teams, which could create a possibility for the Jackets to take a slot as a 5-7 team.

Regardless, barring unforeseen circumstances, it will be his 56th game (46th in a row) and 32nd start. In the upset at then-No. 13 North Carolina last Saturday, he surpassed several former Tech players for second place all-time in career games played, behind only teammate Malachi Carter at 57.

Thomas is eager to test himself against the undefeated Bulldogs.

“Those guys are No. 1 in the nation,” he said. “Make some plays against those guys, bring back the ‘dub’ and it makes everybody look good.”

After the season, Thomas will begin preparations for the draft. He has accepted a spot in the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas in February.

There is, of course, no knowing what would have happened had he decided to transfer. But Thomas is grateful to have stayed.

“I’m thankful for this opportunity to be at Georgia Tech,” he said. “I’m thankful for my mom, I’m thankful for my family, my grandma. my coaches, my teammates. I can’t be more thankful.”

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