This will be an easy call for Trevor Thomas.
Even though he helped the Marshall football program reach the national championship game three years in a row, and win a title in 1992, he will be rooting for N.C. State on Saturday.
“I love Marshall,” Thomas said. “I bleed green but when it comes to your children, they take precedent over everything.”
And the Thomas boys are all Wolfpack right now. Freshman receiver Thayer Thomas, the oldest of three sons, has been the breakout star of the offense in N.C. State’s 2-0 start.
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Drake Thomas, a high school senior, is a hotshot linebacker at Heritage and one of the keys to N.C. State’s top-25 recruiting class.
For the family, Saturday’s game in Huntington, W.Va., isn’t a conflict of rooting interests — rather a happy reunion.
“I’ve rooted for Marshall my whole life,” Thayer Thomas said. “This is a special moment for me and my family.”
The Thomas family roots run deep in West Virginia. Trevor, who is from Fairmont, W.Va., started for three years at left guard for the Thundering Herd in the early 1990s. He was a team captain for two years and graduated in 1994. His wife, Shelly, graduated from West Virginia and then got her master’s degree at Marshall.
When the schedule came out and N.C. State was supposed to play the Mountaineers and Marshall in consecutive weeks, the family was ecstatic.
Last week’s game with West Virginia was canceled due to Hurricane Florence. The trip to Huntington can make up for the disappointment of missing out on that game.
Thayer was born in Charleston, W.Va., where the team will stay on Friday night. Before Thayer could walk, his parents would bundle him up and take him to Marshall home games. Randy Moss and Chad Pennington were more familiar names to the Wolfpack freshman than Torry Holt or Mario Williams.
Thomas’ sales job took him from Charleston to Ohio to Raleigh. The Thomas family actually started to pull for N.C. State before their oldest son got to campus. It was an old Marshall connection that drew them to the Wolfpack.
Thomas was an undersized offensive lineman after he redshirted his freshman season at Marshall.
“I’m 6-foot on a good day,” Thomas said. “I played left guard at about 265 pounds.”
Marshall was a Division I-AA powerhouse back then (it moved up to the I-A level in 1997). Jim Donnan, a former N.C. State quarterback, was the head coach and won 64 games in six seasons.
The Herd actually had a chance to beat N.C. State twice when Thomas was a fixture on the line. The Wolfpack needed a late rally to pull off a 15-14 win in 1991. Two years later, the Herd led at the half before N.C. State came back to win 31-24.
Thomas’ line coach at Marshall was Chris Scelfo. Scelfo’s son, Joe, transferred to N.C. State in 2016 and started at center during his graduate season.
Chris Scelfo, who has had a long coaching career in college and in the NFL, took the 2016 season off to watch his son play for the Wolfpack.
The old line coach reconnected with his former pupil in Raleigh that season.
“That was great,” Thomas said. “My boys got to know Joe when he was playing.”
When Joe Scelfo was hired as a graduate assistant in the spring, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren asked him to help recruit Drake Thomas.
“(Joe) called us immediately and said, ‘This is my first project,’ ” Thomas said.
The connections helped. Drake Thomas, a 6-1, 225-pound linebacker, was also being pursued by Alabama and Clemson. He picked N.C. State in June and has been instrumental in recruiting some of the other top players in the state to join him.
Into the spotlight
While Drake Thomas has been in the brightest recruiting spotlight, his older brother was overlooked. A broken collarbone limited Thayer Thomas to six games during his junior year at Heritage.
“I feel like out of high school, I was looked down upon,” Thayer said.
The injury didn’t help. Neither did his size. He was 5-5 and 120 pounds in ninth grade.
“If that,” his dad said. “I remember him being smaller than that.”
Thayer’s smallish stature didn’t prevent him from excelling in three sports. He also was a standout in baseball and basketball.
A late growth spurt helped in football. Thayer was healthy for his senior season at Heritage and productive (74 catches, 965 yards). He was invited to be a preferred walk-on by N.C. State.
He redshirted during the 2017 season and after a strong spring was put on scholarship. He has had another growth spurt in college.
“I’ve actually grown about an inch and a half since I got to State,” Thayer said.
He’s listed as 6-1 and 193 pounds on N.C. State’s official roster. His size hasn’t been a problem, not with those hands.
He scored N.C. State’s first touchdown of the season, a 16-yard catch in the 24-13 win over James Madison on Sept. 1. Then, with starter Jakobi Meyers out with an ankle injury, he had nine catches for 114 yards and a touchdown in a 41-7 win over Georgia State on Sept. 8.
Doeren has said repeatedly that Thayer doesn’t get enough credit for his athletic ability. He’s got a little veteran savvy in his route-running, too.
His touchdown catch against Georgia State got attention because he made it with one hand but he got open by setting up a pair of defenders on an underneath route by using the umpire as a screen.
“You can just see how crisp and reliable he is,” quarterback Ryan Finley said.
“Reliable” is just about the best compliment a receiver can get from his quarterback.
For the first time this season, Finley will have a full complement of receivers and tight ends. Thayer might not have the starring role he had in the Georgia State win but he’ll still have a role in the offense.
He’ll also have his own cheering section at Edwards Stadium. About 20 of his family members and another dozen of dad’s old Marshall teammates are coming to the game.
“And they’re wearing red,” Thayer said.