“We played good football,” Thomas recalled. “We had pretty good teams, but they were not really outstanding.”
The Commodores struggled when Thomas was in high school – they were winless in his sophomore and junior seasons and posted a respectable 3-4-2 mark in his senior year.
Perry was coached by Jim Newmeyer in those days.
“Newmeyer was tough,” Thomas said. “He would work you really hard, and Perry didn’t have anything before he came.”
Thomas played some end early in his career and then wound up at fullback.
“We played both ways in those days,” Thomas explained. “I played fullback and on defense I lined up anyplace they put me.”
One of the problems that plagued Perryopolis during those years was lack of depth – the football squads were usually very small in number.
“We were very limited in numbers,” Thomas stated.
To illustrate how limited the Commodores were – checkout this item from the Uniontown Morning Herald in 1951.
‘Newmeyer says that the coach of a small school can’t afford to be too bossy with his players. He’s got to coddle them a little because if too many quit the squad, he won’t be able to field a team.
Every coach at Perryopolis has faced this problem, he says.
The boys in that town are more interested in basketball than in football.’
Whether he knows it or not, Newmeyer, in that one sentence explained why Perry is weak in football—to excel in anything you must be interested in what you are doing.’
It wasn’t unusual in those days for 4-or-5 boys to miss each practice because of work commitments.
Despite the lack of success on the gridiron – Thomas enjoyed playing high school football.
“Oh yes, I really enjoyed it,” Thomas said. “I played football and baseball and I played for the Sons of Italy in the Big 10 and that was pretty good baseball too in those days.”
Thomas was named to the Fayette County All County Football team in 1952 as a fullback and several schools came after him with scholarship offers.
“I went to the University of Tennessee,” Thomas recalled. “I had a girl back home that I couldn’t be away from long – so I was there for a while and then I quit. I had a few offers as a senior and I went to Tennessee because of a teacher named George Estok and Bert Rechichar who I think married Estok’s sister – Rechichar was a big Tennessee guy and that’s how they got their foot in the door with me.
“I came back home because of the girl who I eventually married. I went to work at the brickyard down in Layton and then Clemson got interested in me. They got in touch with me and I went down to Clemson to look it over and I remember getting off the airplane in Greenville, SC and it was so hot I could hardly stand it. I wondered how in the world they could play football in this heat, but I decided to play there.”
Clemson had a pipeline from Western Pennsylvania in those days.
“They had a guy by the name of Fish Davis from Greensburg,” Thomas remembered. “He did most of the recruiting in Western Pennsylvania – he was the bird dog the talent scout. Clemson coach Frank Howard was good friends with Davis. We had a lot of guys from Pennsylvania go to Clemson at that time.”
Thomas played freshman ball for the Tigers in 1955.
“I played fullback as a freshman,” Thomas offered. “I started at fullback and then when I got to the varsity they moved me to defensive linebacker and offensive center.”
Thomas played on some outstanding teams at Clemson.
In his sophomore year 1956: Clemson was 7-2-2 overall and 4-0-1 in the ACC for 1st in the conference. Clemson lost to Colorado in the Orange Bowl and was ranked 19th (AP) in the final poll.
As a junior in 1957: The Tigers went 7-3 overall and finished 3rd in the ACC; ranked 18th (UPI) in the final poll.
In his senior season 1958: Clemson was 8-3 overall and 5-1 in the ACC to finish 1st; lost to LSU in the Sugar Bowl; ranked 12th (AP) and 13th (UPI) in the final polls.
“I was on some pretty good teams,” Thomas opined. “We went to the Orange Bowl and the Sugar Bowl and they didn’t have all the Bowl games that they do today. I had some talented teammates like lineman Lou Cordileone and quarterback Harvey White and I got to play against Billy Cannon and LSU when they were number one in the nation. Cannon was a very good football player.”
Thomas garnered second team All-ACC honors at center in 1958.
Crusty Frank Howard led the Clemson football fortunes in those days and Thomas says he was quite a guy.
“He was quite a character,” Thomas stated. “He was tough, but if you played for him – there wasn’t a better guy. After I was out of school and before he died, I used to take him to banquets when he spoke. He couldn’t drive and he was in demand for speeches. He was a great story teller and he had that Alabama drawl. I was with him right until the end.”
Thomas never regretted his decision to go to Clemson.
“It was a good decision,” Thomas gushed. “A little boy from Perryopolis – actually I was from Layton, not very many people from Layton get to play football – big time football and that was big time football.”
When Thomas graduated he had an opportunity to play Pro football.
“I got drafted by Los Angeles and I couldn’t get together with them on the money,” Thomas remembered. “Then the AFL Boston Patriots started the next year and I went there and I got cut by Lou Saban and I came back to Clemson and went in the banking business.”
Thomas stayed in the banking business in South Carolina for 20 years and then went into his own business with a carpet cleaning company and he retired in 2007.
Thomas, now deceased, had been married for 50-years to his former high school sweetheart Peggy Hudock and they had two sons – Todd and Bill.