Juanyeh Thomas looks back at Georgia Tech’s season, ahead to NFL combine

Georgia Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas speaks with media following practice at Bobby Dodd Stadium October 20, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

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Georgia Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas speaks with media following practice at Bobby Dodd Stadium October 20, 2021. (AJC photo by Ken Sugiura)

Georgia Tech safety Juanyeh Thomas’ original plan was to put everything he had into this past season and then turn professional. Then, he said, he had a change of heart and intended to return to use his extra season of eligibility. Ultimately, though, he felt divine direction to go back to his initial inclination.

“I had talks with coach (Geoff) Collins, and I was going to come back, but I had a talk with God, and I felt like God put it in my path that it’s time to go and live out your dreams, and this is your big chance and big opportunity,” Thomas said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And once I put that in my mind that that’s what I was going to do, I was at peace with everything.”

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Thomas’ invitation to the NFL scouting combine, which he announced Saturday on social media, would seem additional confirmation of the wisdom of his decision to turn professional. Thomas said that he expected to receive an invitation based on information provided to him by Tech general manager Patrick Suddes. Still, when he received word last week that it had actually come to pass, he broke down in tears.

“It’s been rough for me and, just being at Tech, not being able to help the team win as many games as we wanted,” he said. “So just to get (the invitation), it kind of just made me feel a little bit better. I’m just thankful for it. This is something for the whole team, all the guys I played with.”

Thomas spoke by phone from Dallas, where he has been training for the combine and his participation in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, a pre-draft showcase that takes place in Pasadena, Calif., on Jan. 29. (He also considered the Hula Bowl, which is going on this week in Orlando, Fla., but in consultation with his agent and Suddes, determined that the NFLPA game would be the better opportunity.)

At the combine, Thomas will be one of roughly 330 of the top draft prospects. He is the first non-specialist from Tech to receive an invitation since 2016. Thomas said that it meant “everything” to him to be invited.

“This is one step closer to my goal, and that’s getting drafted, and this just gave me more confidence and added more fuel to my fire,” he said. “Because I’ve still got this chip on my shoulder. I’ve still got stuff to prove to people.”

Regarding his decision to enter the draft, Thomas said that the possibility to play next year with his younger brother Azareyeh – a four-star prospect who considered Tech but signed with Florida State – was not a factor. Thomas said that Azareyeh told him not to consider that as he made his decision about staying at Tech or leaving.

“He said, ‘Go on and make your decision for your future because you only get one shot at this,’” Thomas said. “Listening to him, my little brother, tell me that, that just gave me confidence.”

(Thomas said he was happy for Azareyeh and said he’ll be a Seminoles fan “until they play Georgia Tech this year.”)

Thomas said deciding whether to stay or leave was stressful, and that he already misses Tech, “but I just feel like it’s time to move forward and try to achieve all of my goals and reach my dreams.”

As for Tech’s 3-9 season, Thomas said the losses served a learning purpose for the team for next season and that he believes “the sky is the limit” for the Jackets next year.

“We lost those games for a reason, to have a learning point,” he said. “Yes, it is time to win. It is time to win. I understand that. Everybody does. But I feel like we had go through those losses.”

Regarding the Jackets’ final two games, in which the Jackets lost 55-0 to Notre Dame and 45-0 to Georgia, Thomas said that the problem was not effort, but the toll of the season.

“I feel like everybody was getting discouraged (at that point of the season) because we felt like we were going to have another losing season, which we did, and that can play a big part in the way you feel and how you go about stuff,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he had no hard feelings over Collins’ firing of safeties coach Nathan Burton and cornerbacks coach Jeff Popovich. Thomas was particularly close with Burton – “that’s my dude,” Thomas said – his position coach for the past three seasons.

“(Burton) told me that he still loves coach Collins, coach Collins still loves him,” Thomas said. “Coach Collins and him still talk to this day, and it’s not like there’s hard feelings with anything. (Burton) told me he just felt like it was the right time and place for stuff to happen because we probably needed change. It was tough to see coach Burton and coach ‘Pop’ go. It was tough. Those are two really good human beings that really helped people out a lot.”

Having graduated in December with a degree in literature, media and communications, Thomas can devote himself completely to pre-draft training. To have that latitude, Thomas drastically ramped up his course load starting in January 2021 to finish in 3½ years. He said he took six classes last spring, five in the summer and five in the fall. His original plan, he said, was five classes last spring, two in the summer, four in the fall and two this spring.

“I just blocked out everything and just got to work,” Thomas said. “Even on the days I felt like I couldn’t do it, I did it. I had to tell myself, ‘You can do it, you can do it, you can do it,’ and I kept telling myself that every day. And, then, as soon as I walked across that stage, it was a big relief. It was a big sigh.”

Remarkably, Thomas said that of those 16 classes taken in a 12-month span, he made two C’s, with the rest A’s and B’s. He made dean’s list (3.0 GPA for the semester) in his final term.

“I put in the work and time, and good things happen to people that put in the work and time,” he said.

The combine begins March 1 in Indianapolis. Thomas’ plan is to stay in the Dallas area training at Michael Johnson Performance, where Jackets offensive tackle Devin Cochran also is working out.

“Everything’s going smooth, and I feel like my life as of right now has gotten a little bit more easy,” Thomas said. “But I know life’s going to get harder further down the road. I’m enjoying it now, though.”

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