It’s just after 7 AM, and the sun is rising over the dewy artificial surface at Benny Monroe Stadium. Senior Destun Thomas is leading Cleveland through warmups. The 6’2, 195 lb. two-way player put up video games numbers during the tumultuous 2020 season.
Thomas snagged 45 receptions for 1,224 yards and 18 touchdowns. Additionally, he was responsible for 14 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 7 interceptions.
The Blue Raiders went 5-5 and came within a touchdown of upsetting Dobyns-Bennett in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite earning All-State Defensive Athlete and All-Region Receiver honors, Thomas wants to take his team up another level. “My goal is to become a better leader and to keep working and stay humble.” The do-it-all senior gave glowing reviews of his teammates, “We are just a big family. We’ve almost all been on the same football team since 6th grade, so we have a lot of chemistry.”
Thomas went out of his way to brag on the coaching staff as well. Head Coach Marty Wheeler returned the favor, saying, “Destun is a very talented athlete that wants to perform at a very high level. What he has improved on this off-season and continues to get better at is understanding that there is much more to performing at that level than just playing football.”
Coach Wheeler continued to rave about Thomas’s character. “As a person, he is one of the nicest kids you could meet, especially at his age. Just a guy who loves to be happy and has a huge heart! I'm one of his biggest fans, he may not agree with that statement sometimes, but my own kids wouldn't probably either sometimes.”
After three hours of practice, it’s time for conditioning – an additional ten 40-yard sprints to prepare for the rigors of 6A football. But the day is just getting started for Thomas. He lives with his receiver’s coach, so there is no wasted time. Thomas cleans up, grabs some chocolate milk, and sits in front of his computer to tackle school work.
In less than two years, Thomas transformed himself into an academic scholar. Following his sophomore year at Bradley Central, he transferred across town and significantly increased his GPA. “I had a young teacher named Mr. Lamagna; he made it fun to learn about World History! My favorite thing to learn was about the Samurais because they were some savages”. Now Thomas is applying that savage energy towards getting his ACT above the national average.
The renewed focus on academics has helped Thomas earn scholarship offers from Eastern Kentucky, UT-Martin, and Mississippi Gulf. Now big-time D-1 programs are contacting his coaches to learn more about the student-athlete. But, regardless of where he plays at the next level, Thomas is considering putting his speaking skills to use with a degree in Communications.
So what keeps a teenager motivated to work so hard? “My mom is such a great influence on my life. She’s been strong through raising me and my sister alone and to see how she keeps her head up at low times motivates me to keep pushing.”
Finally, after a long day of practice and schoolwork, it’s time to relax. The self-proclaimed excellent cook makes a meal and watches old Jerry Rice highlights on his phone. Armed with D-1-level talent and deep knowledge of the game, Thomas will be top of his class in 2021.
(Pat Benson is the author of 'Kobe Bryant's Sneaker History (1996-2020)' which was named a #1 New Release on Amazon. He has covered the NBA for Forbes. Tweet him @Pat_Benson_Jr.)