Joe Thomas Sr. really put the “senior” in Senior Day Saturday.
In the first quarter of South Carolina State’s game against Savannah State, Thomas Sr. ran the ball for three yards on the first carry of his collegiate career. What makes such a modest carry unique and noteworthy — and historic — is the fact that Thomas is 55 years of age.
Joe Thomas Sr., 55, sees action at RB for S.C. State vs. Savannah St. (Bulldogs up 6-0 1Q) 3-yard gain! @postandcourier
— Gene Sapakoff (@Sapakoff) November 19, 2016
— Mike Gillespie (@MikeABCColumbia) November 19, 2016
— Mike Uva (@Mike_Uva) November 19, 2016
While the NCAA does not keep such statistics, it’s believed that Thomas Sr. is the oldest player to ever take the field, let alone record a statistic, in Div. I history. The FCS player very well could’ve broken the unofficial record at this level previously thought to be set by Tim Frisby, who walked on at South Carolina in 2004 at the age of 39 and played for both Lou Holtz and Steve Spurrier.
In 2011, 61-year-old Alan Moore kicked an extra point in an NAIA game to become the oldest player in the history of college football. Four years before that, 59-year-old Mike Flynt suited up and played for Div. III Sul Ross State.
Thomas Sr., meanwhile, last played in an official football game in 1980 during the South Carolina state high school playoff semifinals. Thomas’ long journey from there to here 36 years later is well-chronicled by SI.com‘s David Gardner HERE. Here, though, is a brief synopsis of his struggle that includes a current NFL player who’s also his son:
Thomas was raised in Blackville, South Carolina, a small town about 40 minutes from Orangeburg, where South Carolina State’s campus is located. Throughout his childhood, Thomas 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.
When Thomas’s son, Joe Thomas Jr.—who now plays for the Green Bay Packers—enrolled at South Carolina State, Thomas Sr. decided to join him in the classroom and on the football field. Although he never had the opportunity to play in a game with his son, Thomas Sr. stuck with the football team with the hopes of getting in a game. On Saturday, he accomplished that goal.
The Charleston Post & Courier explains that Thomas Sr. has been strictly a scout team player and had not appeared on the team’s roster until Saturday. According to one official, “[h]e would come to practice for a week, then skip three weeks.”
The NCAA had to issue a waiver that allowed Thomas Sr. to play.