Arguably the top quarterback in Concordia Football history, Von Thomas fielded our questions on Thursday (July 2) as part of a Q&A session. Among the highlights from his playing career with the Bulldogs, Thomas holds program career records for touchdown passes (49), quarterback rushing yards (1,598) and quarterback rushing touchdowns (16) while ranking second all-time in passing yards (5,662). Thomas now serves Concordia as Multicultural Program Specialist and Assistant Director of Student Life. In this Q&A, he discussed memories from his days as a student-athlete, why he and his wife Daisha (also an alum) returned to Seward, conversations taking place about racial inequality and more.
Q&A with Von Thomas
It’s been a few years now since your graduation. What comes to mind first when you think about your time here as a student-athlete?
It’s been positive. The first time I came here on a visit in December of 2009 was my first time experiencing a harsh winter here in the Midwest. The coaching staff was very welcoming. They all knew me by name and knew a little about my history as an athlete back home in Miami. It made me feel at home already, which was huge for me. When I returned back home I gave Coach (Vance) Winter a call and told him I was coming. I enrolled in school and my first day on campus was my 20th birthday.
My overall experience here has been nothing short of a blessing. I’ve met guys and girls throughout my time here that I consider family. I’m still in contact with those same individuals. Outside of that I’ve been pretty blessed with professors who were willing to work with me. As a student-athlete, our calendars are full. We’re putting in a lot of time in the classroom and a lot of time in our athletic programs. For them to be adaptable to student-athletes here speaks volumes of our professors. That was helpful for me as a student-athlete. Transitioning from high school to college can be very difficult, but our professors did a really great job of helping me out.
As far as football specifically, is there a game or a moment that stands out most?
Northwestern – that win when they were ranked in 2012. That was such a rollercoaster game. It was back and forth, down to the wire. We ended up winning by like one point. Playing quarterback during that game I learned a lot about myself. I couldn’t mess up. I didn’t have any space to make mistakes. I had to be on top of my game. There were other guys who felt the same. That game was such a huge relief and a huge game for us – protecting home field against a great team. That was probably one of the best defenses I’ve faced in my football career. They do a really good job at Northwestern on the defensive side.
After the game we went into the locker room, Coach Winter spoke and we ‘walked the dog’ as usual. I came back out and I was on the edge of the north end zone, laid out on the turf on my back. I didn’t take any of my equipment off except for my helmet. Coach Winter came up to me and was like, ‘You doing all right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that was a stressful game.’ He kind of laughed at me and was like, ‘You’re going to have a lot of those.’ Ever since then it’s just been great.
You touched on some of the things that make Concordia special to you, but what was it that compelled you and your wife Daisha to want to come back here?
We missed our friends. A lot of them are located here in the Midwest. After we graduated we moved down to Florida. The majority of my family was there. That was great, I love them. A lot of our friends were here though and we wanted to get back. We missed the seasons. Believe it or not, I missed the wintertime and the fall and enjoying the different elements of Mother Nature. It’s something we cherish now, being close to friends. Even though we’re miles away from our family, we love having the support system at this university and the community of Seward. We’ve never had any issues in small-town Seward. We knew we could raise a family here and that was another huge reason for us. We’re raising our baby daughter Sophia here. We enjoy all of our time with her.
What is the advantage to life in Seward over Miami and what is something you miss about Miami that you don’t get here?
It’s a slower pace of life, something I didn’t understand growing up in Miami. Everything was fast. You had to keep up with the times. Now we just enjoy the slow pace of life and being able to appreciate everything around you. We love the outdoors, which Nebraska gives us a huge advantage in that regard. Back home it’s pretty humid and hot year-round. It’s pretty buggy. People say it’s buggy around here but they haven’t experienced Florida yet, especially during summer.
Some advantages of back home … the night life for sure. Things are open at 11 o’clock at night. Some people also love the beach. You see a lot of different things from cars to people to buildings and architecture. The food is so diverse back home. There are pros and cons to everything in life. The pros outweigh the cons here in Seward. We are glad to be back here and part of the community.
They gave you quite a long title. What are your main roles and responsibilities with that title?
My official title is Multicultural Program Specialist and Assistant Director of Student Life. With the multicultural program, my main job outside of office work is to help students with different backgrounds from all areas of the United States and even internationally adapt to small-town life here in Seward. I feel like if I survived Seward for four years as a student-athlete others like me can as well. I feel like I have the knowledge and the resources to help students adapt to Seward and get to see the beauty in being in a small town and on this campus.
You’re also part of the football staff. What do you find rewarding about coaching?
Knowing that I can’t play anymore stinks, but I just want to be around it and have that football experience through our athletes now. That helps you get through some days and life in general. I’ve been playing football since 1998. I was eight years old at the time. It’s been part of my life. Being in a position to coach guys and help them grow as student-athletes and help them grow into men means a lot. It helps me grow as a person.
I’m sure you will have conversations with students and maybe you already have regarding this topic. The tragic death of George Floyd and the resulting protests have all happened with students off campus. How have you prepared to have conversations with students about what’s going on in our country in terms of racial injustice?
That whole situation was so sad to see. I saw it as good versus evil. We saw a human being taking another human being’s life. George Floyd was helpless. For us to see that, it caused a lot of uproar. When you bring race into it, it ignites that even more. With our current students here, I have had conversations with a few of them, some are Black athletes here. They see it and we all do. It starts with conversation and just getting to know each other on a personal level, not just hi and bye throughout class or in the hallways. Make it a point to get to know somebody before judging them.
Going back to the George Floyd situation and the protests, the one thing I struggle with is people who are against a color. I wonder how they go to work the next morning with people who don’t look like them. That’s something that I just can’t grasp as a Black male.
Outside of that, I’ve tried to prepare our students for when they come back. I think the biggest challenge will be with our new students that don’t understand the community here – the brotherhood and sisterhood on campus no matter if you’re Hispanic, Black, White or International. I truly believe we have something special here. A lot of people say that Seward’s a safe space, but I see it as students here appreciate each other. They appreciate differences. If there were racial issues here on campus, I would probably be one of the first ones to know about it. I’m going on four years here and throughout my time here I have not had to deal with racial issues. I’m not saying that there aren’t any, but if there were and they were bothering students I would be one of the first ones on campus to know about it. That’s why I’m here. It’s just going to boil down to having conversations and giving students space to share their experiences. Even though I’m a Black male and we have Black student-athletes here, it doesn’t mean our experiences will be the same. I think that goes with anybody with any race or any gender. There are always going to be bad people out there. We can’t sit back and say that this whole race is bad because of one person. That’s not fair to the others who are trying to make a difference in their communities.
I don’t want to lead you into it, but doesn’t it seem true that within a football team a lot of times it does help unify a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds? How have you seen that dynamic play out as both a player and a coach?
I consider the locker room a sacred space. That’s where you get a bunch of guys from around the country and around the world. I played with some international guys as well. You come together for one goal – to win. There are other goals that lead into that. Guys have to come together in order to win. If you’re divided in the locker room then the program is going to go downhill pretty fast. Our football staff does a tremendous job recruiting the right guys to come here to contribute on and off the field. When I say off the field that speaks to the classroom and the community. They do a really good job of getting the right group of guys in here. The locker room is a space for our guys to have those conversations amongst each other without a coach there. They get to respectfully hash things out. It’s there for them to iron out those issues.
One of the greatest things I’ve seen here in a long time was a current Seward athlete get connected with some of our guys from Texas, California and Arizona and do music together. When they found out that one of our White students was into music and had his Sound Cloud, you could just see their relationship come closer. That was amazing to see. Those guys continue to work together on and off the field, even with their music. Our locker room has been a great place for the guys to talk. Teams having a common goal to win brings guys together no matter what you look like, no matter what background you come from. A lot of our upperclassmen do a really good job of making the freshmen feel at home.
We know this school year is going to be unique and things are probably going to look a little bit different, but what are you most looking forward to this coming school year?
Just getting students back on campus. It’s been kind of boring, even though we’ve been busy with planning because of everything going on. The students never came back after spring break. It was extended another week to see what would happen. We lost them pretty fast in March. We lost about a month-and-a-half of students being here on campus. We can prepare to lose them for the summer, but you don’t prepare for them to be gone in the middle of the semester. Just to get them on campus and have those interactions and watch them grow as individuals is what I’m most looking forward to. We spend a lot of time with students.