Gibson shared a story that he told in the service, about how Thomas and a teammate had walked off from practice one day after Gibson got on them for not moving from one drill to the next as quickly as Gibson wanted. At that point, Thomas already was headed to Tech and had little need to be on the track team. It was an opportune moment for the big man on campus to assert himself. But Thomas came back a few minutes later with a humble apology, Gibson recalled, and wasn’t a problem for the remainder of the season.
Over the years, Gibson and Thomas’ relationship continued as Thomas returned to Laurens County to see family and friends. Gibson helped out at Thomas’ football camp at the high school.
“He was humble, he was kind, very well-mannered, soft-spoken,” Gibson said. “He didn’t like to talk in front of people. He’d rather stay in the background.”
Were Thomas present, Gibson continued, he likely would have been goofing with the children.
“He just gravitated to the children,” Gibson said. “The world needs more of that.”
All the stages of Thomas’ life were present, from his childhood growing up in tiny Montrose to his days as a multi-sport star at West Laurens, his four years at Tech, his 10-year NFL career and the start of his post-football life following his retirement in June.
“Every time you see him, he was smiling,” said Laronica Jones, a family friend who grew up near Thomas in Montrose and recalled playing with him and friends in the dirt and cornfields near their homes.
“He made sure you went hard, regardless,” said Jamuel Jones, his high-school teammate. “And if you weren’t going hard – ‘Oh, man, you’re soft.’ That’s him. That’s who he was.”
Kayvon Webster, a teammate of Thomas’ with the Broncos, said he would honor Thomas by carrying forward Thomas’ positivity, love and peace.
“You would never even know that he was a Super Bowl winner or a superstar because of how selfless he was,” Webster said. “He made even the person who thought they didn’t matter, he made them matter.”
Jay Morrison and Thomas were business partners, and they were working together to buy a farm. Morrison also helped work with Thomas to teach financial literacy to students, which had become a cause of his. Thomas was excited for Morrison to bring the class back to Laurens County, where 16% of adults hold bachelor’s degrees and the median household income is $39,120, according to the 2019 U.S. Census.
“He was like, we’ve got to take a ride to my high school and do a program at the high school,” Morrison said. “So I’m actually going to do that this coming year.”
Their relationship extended far past their business.
“We literally just poured into each other, just uplifted each other,” Morrison said.
Following the service, Chris Foreman, a cousin, remembered taking Thomas to football and basketball camps as a boy. Despite the circumstances of his childhood – his mother Katina Smith and grandmother Minnie Thomas were arrested in 1999 on drug-trafficking charges when Thomas was 11 and later were convicted and imprisoned; their sentences were commuted in 2015 and 2016, respectively – Foreman remembered his cousin’s loving way.
“He never frowned, he never showed anger,,” said Foreman, who helped carry Thomas’ polished casket into a waiting hearse after the service. “He just showed love to everybody.”
The Broncos will hold a second service (by invitation only) Monday at Tech’s McCamish Pavilion. Saturday’s service was for a favorite son who made great but never forgot his roots.
“Whoever you are, no matter who you are, he’s going to make you feel like you’re everything,” Jamuel Jones said. “That’s how awesome of a guy he is. I’m going to miss him a lot.”