There were times that a midfoot sprain during the spring made it tough for Aaron Thomas to walk, forget about running routes.
The severity of the injury was such that his career might be cut short. Two to three months of rehab, however, got him back on the field and up to speed.
Had the Stephen F. Austin receiver not been able to recover he likely would not have felt sorry for himself. Instead he probably would have held his high while being thankful for three seasons of college football.
After all, the fifth-year senior has spent time with individuals who can only imagine what it is like to be in his shoes. Mission trips sponsored by his church took Thomas to Brazil, where he befriended and worked with college students and to Mexico, where he dealt with kids and adults who have little in the way of possessions.
“I felt like God was calling me to do something like that, to make some kind of impact across the world somewhere,” Thomas said when asked what inspired him to take those trips. “I decided to do it and I am glad I did because both trips were really awesome experiences.”
They were experiences that grabbed his attention, especially in Mexico where many of the individuals he encountered had so little, yet offered so much.
“The people we worked with just did not have a lot going for them and they had such a great attitude,” said the native of Burnet, Texas. “One thing I noticed was how thankful everybody was even though, in our eyes, their lives did not look too good, but they felt entirely blessed. That was a really cool experience to see how grateful people are.”
It makes a dropped pass or a defeat at the hands of a rival school seem rather trivial. In fact, the missions altered Thomas’ mindset toward life in general.
“It provided me with an entirely new perspective on how I live my life every day,” he said. “When things are not going great or I am not feeling good I think about how every day is just another great opportunity for me and that every day is such a blessing. Seeing that people are appreciative and thankful for the things that they have no matter their circumstances is definitely an eye-opener. Whenever I want to complain about something, I stop and think how there are so many people that wish they could be doing what I am doing.”
That includes pursuing his MBA and being nominated for the 2015 Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team, which recognizes commitment to community service. Thomas was not one of the final 22 players to make the cut, but he was the only nominee from the 13-team Southland Conference.
He made the cut with the former Addie Shipley, though, as the couple married this summer. Addie knows a few things about football as her brothers, Jordan and Jaxson, were receivers at the University of Texas. Jordan played three seasons in the NFL and Jaxson is currently on the Arizona Cardinals’ practice squad.
“She knows football really well,” laughed Thomas, whose father played at Angelo State. “She probably has better hands than I do, honestly. There are times when she gives me advice and that I need to this or I need to do that. I allow her to have input every now and then.”
Thomas did not receive a single college offer despite a stellar career at Burnet High. He felt he could play at the Division I level and walked on with the Lumberjacks in the fall of 2011 and redshirted. Hard work and determination paid off in a scholarship in the spring of 2012. Three-plus seasons later he heads into Saturday afternoon’s game at Abilene Christian — where Addie’s father and grandfather played — having caught 137 career passes for 1,880 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Not bad for a former walk on. Younger players in a similar circumstance may want to digest Thomas’ advice.
“I tell guys that are in the same situation that I was to keep working hard and do not come in here being a loudmouth talking about your high school accolades and this and that,” he said. “I encourage them to work hard, to do everything that the coaches ask of them and give everything they have every day. Stay positive and be thankful that you have the opportunity to walk on.”
Above: Video courtesy Stephen F. Austin athletic department
On the cover: Mission trips to Brazil and Mexico have helped SFA’s Aaron Thomas keep life in perspective. (Courtesy Hardy Meredith/SFA Athletics)