Sports

NC State football standout Thayer Thomas in the MLB draft? Here’s how it happened.

N.C. State’s Thayer Thomas (87) scores on a 16-yard touchdown reception during the first half of N.C. State’s game against James Madison at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018.
N.C. State’s Thayer Thomas (87) scores on a 16-yard touchdown reception during the first half of N.C. State’s game against James Madison at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Trevor Thomas was driving in Charlotte on Wednesday when he got a text message to let him know his son was about to be taken in the Major League Baseball draft.

“I pulled over and tried to find it on my phone,” Thomas said.

He knew it was coming but the Boston Red Sox’s selection of N.C. State sophomore Thayer Thomas in the 33rd round of the MLB draft was a surprise to most Wolfpack fans, for a couple of reasons.

First, Thomas has primarily made his mark as a football player for the Wolfpack. As a redshirt freshman in 2018, he caught 34 passes for 383 yards with three touchdowns.

Second, Thomas’ role for the Wolfpack baseball team was limited this season. A reserve outfielder, he hit .222 with a home run and two doubles in 14 games. His primary commitment was to spring practice in football, which took away some of his baseball availability.

Third, and maybe most surprising, college baseball players either have to be a junior or 21 years old to be draft eligible. Thomas is a redshirt freshman in both sports but turned 21 on May 20. That means, as Yogi Berra might have put it, he’s “old for his age.” He started kindergarten at 6, his dad said, which explains the “extra” year compared to the other students in his grade.

It has been a whirlwind year for Thomas, who is from Wake Forest and was a three-sport standout at Heritage High. He went from a relatively unknown walk-on with no baseball future to an integral role on the football team and a potential spot in the farm system of the World Series champions.

Thomas began his college career as a walk-on at N.C. State in 2017 but then earned a football scholarship last May. Last season, he scored the first touchdown of the season and developed into a reliable slot receiver.

When receiver Jakobi Meyers, who set a new single-season school record for receptions, missed the Georgia State game early in the season with an ankle injury, Thomas filled in and caught nine passes for 114 yards.

With Meyers and Kelvin Harmon off to the NFL, Thomas is set for an even bigger role in 2019. That could depend on what the Red Sox do, his dad said.

“We’re in unchartered waters here,” Trevor Thomas said. “We’re going to do our research and figure out his options and then he’ll make a decision.”

Thomas’ dad added the plan is for Thomas to play football for the Wolfpack this season and “finish out his eligibility.” Thomas will have to make a decision about his baseball future with either N.C. State or the Red Sox.

The news of the Red Sox pick on Wednesday night caught most N.C. State fans off guard, but the family had an inkling it was going to happen.

Pat Watkins, a former major-leaguer from Garner and ECU, has tutored Thomas in hitting and has been his baseball mentor. Thomas’ mentor in football is N.C. State legend Torry Holt, so he has been in good hands. Watkins texted Thomas’ dad before the Red Sox made the pick.

There are 78 rounds in the MLB draft. Boston took Thomas with the 1,007th pick.

“I actually thought they were going to take him later,” his dad said.

The draft money from the Red Sox is not likely enough for Thomas to give up football but his dad didn’t completely rule it out.

“He is interested in playing baseball,” his dad said. “We need to figure out if he wants to continue on the path that he has been on or go a different way.”

The way NCAA rules work, Thomas can sign with Boston and retain his eligibility in football. College football stars, from Bo Jackson to Russell Wilson, have regularly taken that route.

Or Thomas could turn down the Red Sox and continue to play both sports for the Wolfpack. He has three seasons of eligibility left in each sport. He would be eligible to go back into the MLB draft next year.

Thomas was full of surprises on Wednesday. The information on his official draft card also revealed his middle name: Rockne.

His dad played football at Marshall and grew up a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. Pittsburgh legends “Franco,” “Bradshaw” or “Noll” didn’t make the final cut of options but the legendary Notre Dame football coach, Knute Rockne, did.

“Rockne had a better ring to it,” Trevor Thomas said.

Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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