Feb. 11, 2010
Varsity Athletes Club
Stories of personal courage, enduring commitment and outstanding achievement are what make Ram legends. Earlie Thomas is one of them. A walk-on to the Ram's football team in 1967, he was told by then coach Mike Lude, "You don't know anything about football. You can't just play here without experience." Thomas had never played football before, but play he did, against all odds.
Thomas started and lettered for the Rams as a defensive back and return specialist for all three he was eligible: 1967, 1968, and 1969. In 1968, he was elected defensive team captain. In 1969, he was an All-American candidate.
During his entire CSU career he gave up only one touchdown. He earned the reputation as a "shutdown" cornerback around the Western Athletic Conference, which was CSU's conference at the time. Teams realized the futility of throwing passes around CSU's star defensive player.
Thomas was elected to the CSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
"It's a great honor to have been nominated to the CSU Sports Hall of Fame," Thomas said.
The NFL came calling after graduation. Thomas was drafted by the New York Jets in 1970 and he was the runner-up for the NFL Rookie of the Year award in 1970. He played alongside Joe Namath and other star Jets players. He started every game during his rookie year and each of the next four years following. He was an All-AFC selection in his second year. In 1975 and 1976, Thomas played cornerback for the Denver Broncos.
Thomas' story goes far beyond football. He never lost perspective preparing for life after football. His humble early life in a small racially-segregated town in Texas forged a strong work ethic and determination to succeed. He earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in entomology from CSU, even skipping an NFL Pro Bowl game that interfered with his CSU studies. Thomas now lives near Fort Collins and is giving back to CSU and his community. He has enjoyed a successful career as an entomologist, business leader, coach and father. He is a faculty affiliate with CSU's Industrial Sciences Department. He coaches youth football, track and field, soccer and assists with CSU's men's and women's track programs. He excels in Colorado's Masters track and field competition. Thomas can be seen periodically at a Fort Collins gym, and still looks as if he could suit up for the Rams.
It's hard to tell where people like Thomas come from, but everyone should be grateful they appear and give so much to CSU and to others. They teach us about courage and what determination can do if someone takes on huge challenges and personal responsibility to succeed.
Thomas is a great Ram legacy and I wish I could know how many young athletes he has inspired to say, "I can do it", and then do what they dream. When asked why he coaches, Thomas said, "I enjoy it. It is fun. It teaches boys the sport and it teaches them discipline. It teaches them self-confidence, and if they listen and learn, they can do things they did not know they could."
I suppose, with those words, Thomas described his own personal and athletic history.