It would have been reasonable to expect that N.C. State wide receivers Kelvin Harmon or Jakobi Meyers would have been the first to score a touchdown for the Wolfpack this season.
Or perhaps receivers C.J. Riley or Emeka Emezie.
Instead, the honor went to redshirt freshman wide receiver Thayer Thomas, a 6-1, 193-pound former walk-on from Wake Forest’s Heritage High.
That 16-yard touchdown catch, with 9:39 left in the second quarter of N.C. State’s 24-13 win over James Madison this past Saturday, was the first reception of Thomas’ college career.
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Thomas, who joined the team as a walk-on in 2017, was put on scholarship this past spring after earning the respect of his coaches and teammates with his work ethic. Since he got to N.C. State, he’s put on 20 pounds of muscle, and he worked this summer with former N.C. State star wide receiver and Super Bowl winner Torry Holt, who coached Thomas at Heritage. Holt posted video on Instagram of Thomas going through drills this summer.
During N.C. State’s spring game in April,Thomas returned punts for the Wolfpack, and it was his 40-yard punt return in the second quarter against James Madison that set up his first collegiate touchdown, earning praise from head coach Dave Doeren.
“I thought Thayer Thomas didn’t play like a freshman at all,” Doeren said. “Had a great punt return, had a nice touchdown.”
Thomas attributes his improvement to countless hours lifting weights, catching punts, working on agility and footwork, anything to get an edge.
“I think I used all my resources and it allowed me to play well when I got this opportunity,” Thomas said. “I dedicated it to hard work and trusting the process.”
Before the game Thomas had butterflies, he said, which others told him was a good sign. But he was so nervous he couldn’t finish his pregame meal, and even struggled to sleep the night before the game, playing over and over in his mind how he thought the day would go.
“Just trying to imagine myself making plays,” Thomas said. “That positive affirmation. If you see yourself do it, you actually will do it. I tried to do that all night, when I woke up this morning and tried to block all the noise.”
Thomas, whose brother Drake, a senior linebacker at Heritage, committed to N.C. State in June, finished last Saturday’s game with one touchdown and 16 receiving yards.
“This is a dream come true,” Thomas said. “I worked hard for this moment and I feel like I deserve it.”
N.C State plays Georgia State Saturday at 12:30 at Carter-Finley Stadium.