JACKSONVILLE – Walk-on…backup…starter.
Those are just a few of the titles senior kicker Griffin Thomas has earned at Jacksonville State.
There’s one title he has never earned: nervous.
“I try to stay pretty even-keeled,” Thomas said, “and not get worried about the misses and not getting too excited about the makes.”
A native of Snellville, Ga., Thomas’ calm demeanor in crucial situations has earned him quite the reputation with his teammates.
“He’s always kind of a calm, cool and collected guy,” redshirt freshman quarterback Eli Jenkins said. “Every time I see him, he’s either stretching or warming up. He’s just cool all the time.”
Thomas came to JSU in 2009 on an academic scholarship. After the 2010 spring game, he shed his walk-on title and earned an athletic scholarship. He made a 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining in the game to give the Red team the come from behind win over the White team.
“He’s pretty mellow,” said Senior linebacker Robert Gray. “Kicking is what he does. I don’t think he gets nervous at all. He just goes out there, lines up and nails it.”
“I actually think he played for both teams in that game. I think he was the White team and the Red team. I was on the Red team. He ended up kicking the game winner for us and it was pretty exciting we didn’t have to eat those hotdogs. We got steaks.”
The stipulation for the 2010 spring game called for the winners to eat steak and the loser eat beans and hotdogs.
Despite stealing the show at the spring game, Thomas would not take over as the starting kicker that fall. Florida State transfer James Esco pulled the starter duties. Thomas did most of his work on kickoff that year.
When the Gamecocks faced Wofford in the Round 2 of the FCS Playoffs in 2010, Thomas replaced Esco early in the second quarter. Thomas made his only two field goal attempts in the game. He missed a PAT attempt late in the fourth.
His next attempt came in the 2011 spring game. That day, he kicked the White team to victory. After jumping out to a 27-7 lead at halftime, the White team allowed 21-unanswered points to the Red team. Thomas capped off the White team’s final drive with a 43-yard field goal to give it a 30-21 lead. The Red team added one more touchdown but Thomas’ field goal the drive before once again proved to be the difference in the game.
“It’s good to have those practice situations,” Thomas said. “The spring games are the closest ting we have to a game situation. They’re a pretty big scrimmage. We have a decent attendance for those J-Day Games. It’s good to have that situation where you can practice having that kick under pressure.”
After sealing another spring game and a strong showing in the playoffs, Thomas looked poised to attempt some field goals. However, Esco retained his starting job. Thomas remained the primary kickoff specialist and did not attempt a single field goal in the 2011 season.
“It’s frustrating thinking you can make the kicks,” he said. “But, you’ve got to stay supportive. I still had to do kickoff coverage and keep my head in the game.”
He finally shed the backup title in the 2012 season and became the Gamecocks’ starter at kicker. It did not take him long to remind the coaches of what he could do. In the Week 2 game against Chattanooga, he made a 37-yard field goal to give JSU a 27-24 win as time expired.
He did it again in the Week 8 game against Tennessee State. This time, he made a 44-yard field goal to give JSU a 31-28 overtime win.
One week later, he hit the go ahead field goal against Murray State with 8:51 remaining. JSU won that game 38-35.
Complacency is not a trap Thomas fell into . He went after his current title in the 2013 season: weapon.
Often times, an offense is considered to have settled for a field goal when they do not end a drive in the end zone.This season, he has proven to be a critical part of the offense by accounting for 121 points by making 22 of his 29 field goal attempts and 55 PATs. He is making 75.9 percent of his field goal attempts. One of those kicks sealed a 24-21 overtime victory over North Alabama.
His confidence in crucial moments is rubbing off on his teammates. Jenkins said he does not get nervous either when the offense leaves Thomas in a tough spot.
“I really don’t even worry about it,” Jenkins said. “When I know he’s going on the field, I’m just thinking, okay, we’ve got three points. If he misses one, I know he’ll make up for it.”
His teammates are not the only one’s to take notice. The Ohio Valley Conference named him Special Teams Player of the Week five times this season and 1st Team All-OVC. He earned the Fred Mitchell Award for Kicker of the Month twice and The Sports Network even named him National Kicker of the Week twice.
Now he has the chance to finish his career win one more title: All-American. That is an honor no Gamecock has received since Curt Porter in 2010. His 22 field goals tied a JSU and OVC record for most field goals in a season. That record is shared with the last All-American Gamecock kicker and current JSU strength and conditioning coach Gavin Hallford.
“I’m proud of Griff (Thomas),”Hallford said. “I’ve watched him go from kind of being the backup to being the potential All-American that he is. I believe he is 22-of-29. That’s the exact numbers I was when I was an All-American. I find it hard to believe that there’re many people out there better than he is. His consistency and coolness under pressure–you just cant beat that when it comes to kicking.”
Thomas needs only one more field goal to break Hallford’s record. He could get that in Round 2 of the FCS Playoffs against McNeese State Saturday. But, records are not what motivates him. He has his eye on the team.
“It’s big,” Thomas said. “We didn’t have All-Americans last year. But, We’re really focusing on the big team goals. It’s good to get that but we want to play as best we can and make it to the national championship.”