Just months after making history by becoming the oldest player in NCAA Division I history to play in a football game at the age of 55, Joe Thomas Sr. has reached another milestone in his life.
On Friday, Thomas completed his lifelong journey of becoming a college graduate on the same field where he made history in the fall. He walked across the stage in front of family members, friends, fans and Bulldog supporters to receive his degree, a bachelor of science in industrial technology with a focus in engineering.
Thomas received national attention on Nov. 19, 2016, when he carried the ball for three yards in the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ game against Savannah State on Senior Day.
“It was the happiest day of my life,” Thomas told reporters after the game.
Just moments after fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing college football, Thomas received calls from media outlets across the country such as ESPN, Good Morning America, CNN, Sports Center and Sports Illustrated.
Thomas Sr. said, “I didn’t expect it to be as big a story that it was. All I was doing was trying to live out my dream of playing college football."
Raised in Blackville, Thomas throughout his childhood was partially deaf, but a doctor helped him clear his ears when he was 17. During his junior and senior seasons at Blackville High School, he was a star defensive lineman and a promising running back. But he did not get the opportunity to play college football.
An entrepreneur in South Carolina with a construction company and a training facility, Thomas saw his business wiped out by the recession. Four years ago, he decided to pursue a degree in engineering and revive his athletic career.
Now with making history on his side on and off the field, Thomas, a son of a sharecropper, beat the odds and did what no one thought he could do -- play college football and earn his degree.
“If you have a dream, never give up on what you want to do in life,” Thomas said. “People will always try and discourage you, but if I had listened every time someone told me no or I couldn’t do it, then I wouldn’t be where I am today.
"It’s never too late to chase your dream as long as you believe in yourself.”
Thomas is the father of S.C. State alumnus and Green Bay Packer lineman Joe Thomas Jr.