When J.F. Thomas took a detour to a college that didn't offer football, the all-around athlete simply became the best basketball player on the team at Cedar Valley College.
But now he's back where he can play football, and though he averaged a double-double for the Dallas community college of 18.7 points and 15.6 rebounds, his heart belongs to the gridiron. Coaches, teammates and fans of the Tarleton State University Texans couldn't be happier.
"I really just fell in love with football. I knew I'd come back to it," Thomas said. "It comes easy to me.
"I'd play both sports if I could because I like basketball a lot, but since I have to choose one, it's going to be football."
Thomas, who stands 6-5, was an All-Lone Star Conference receiver as a sophomore when he caught 23 passes for 539 yards and six touchdowns. At the time of this article for the 8-0 Texans, who were ranked fourth in the nation in NCAA Division II, he had 25 catches for 550 yards and four TDs.
Thomas' detour to basketball and junior college was due to him returning home to Dallas, where he was a standout for South Oak Cliff, so he could tend to his ailing mother, who passed away in March, and to welcome the birth of his second daughter. He had originally signed out of high school to play football at Texas Tech.
Thomas comes from a multi-sport pedigree. His father played football and basketball, being a standout quarterback and setting the school record for 3-pointers in a game.
Thomas said his time playing basketball helped make him a better football player.
"All of my dribble moves, I use them in football to get off the line," he said. "And I can jump. That came from basketball."
He admits, though, that not everything has been smooth this year. The news of his mother's death still shakes him, but has also motivated him to reach his highest level.
"When my sister called and told me my mom passed, I thought I was just going to give up. Then I thought my mom wouldn't want that, so now I'm playing harder than ever," he said.
"He is a phenomenal athlete, but what makes him special is that he is just as much a competitor as he is a talent," Texans Assistant Coach Tate Whitten said. "He is very gifted and uses his talent to the best of his ability by working his tail off, but most of all being extremely competitive with every rep. In practice and games he's the same guy every day."
And, as fate would have it, Thomas will get to play Division I football after all. The Texans are moving up from Division II next season.
"That's a dream come true. You just have to keep grinding," Thomas said. "Don't give up, no matter what you go through. If you don't give up, you'll get what you want at the end of the day.
"But before playing D-I I have a lot left to do this season."