They’re West Virginia transplants who’ve evolved into a Triangle first family of football. Trevor and Shelly Thomas and their three sons, Thayer, Drake and Lex, are in the middle of two heavyweight showdowns this weekend.
First is a Thursday night game — moved up a day due to Hurricane Ian rain forecasts — when Millbrook (5-0), the Triangle’s Sweet 16’s No. 3-ranked team, hosts No. 7 Heritage (5-0).
Lex Thomas leads Heritage as a senior quarterback committed to N.C. State. Trevor, who was an offensive lineman at Marshall University, is a volunteer assistant coach for the Huskies. Shelly says she’ll arrive at the stadium around 6:30 p.m. to sit among the fans.
On Saturday, No. 10-ranked N.C. State (4-0) faces No. 4 Clemson (4-0) in an ACC showdown worthy of ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew setting up on the Clemson campus. The older Thomas brothers are Wolfpack starters — Thayer, a graduate student receiver, and Drake, a junior middle linebacker.
“We didn’t have any allegiance to North Carolina schools until Thayer,” Shelly said.
Trevor, Shelly and Lex will leave their Wake Forest home Saturday morning for the five-hour drive to the Clemson campus.
“I’m losing sleep this week preparing for Millbrook, and I’m sure (Wolfpack coach Dave) Doeren is losing sleep preparing for Clemson,” chuckled Heritage coach Wallace Clark, who has coached all three Thomas brothers. “But I know Lex will do everything to prepare for his game, and Coach Doeren can count on Thayer and Drake doing everything they need to do to prepare for Clemson.”
The family’s Triangle football identity grew from 2003 when Holcim Cement, an international company with Raleigh offices, relocated Trevor as a salesman. Someone prescient at Holcim deserves a thank you from Doeren for hiring Trevor. Shelly is a math teacher at Score Academy in Rivers Oaks. Trevor and Shelly were high school sweethearts in Fairmont, West Virginia, prior to their college years.
With time, though, Heritage High and N.C. State have been stamped into their family Coat of Arms.
In Heritage’s 14 varsity seasons since the school opened, a Thomas brother has played on Friday nights half of those years — Thayer, 2014-16; Drake, 2015-18; and Lex, 2021-22. Count the JV seasons for Thayer as a freshman and Lex as a freshman and sophomore (Drake played varsity as a freshman), and it’s 10 years in a row.
“They’re all extremely intelligent on and off the football field and dedicated to their craft of playing football,” Clark said. “They’ve all been leaders for us but in different ways. Thayer was more of a leader by example. Drake, as a defensive player, was more of a vocal, rah-rah leader. Lex is our leader as a quarterback. He’s able to direct everybody on offense.”
Although Trevor played college football and helped coach his sons in youth football with the North Raleigh Bulldogs, he stepped back once they arrived at Heritage. Until Clark learned about his background, that is.
“I had to beg him to come out and help coach,” Clark said. “After a few years, I guess he got tired of me asking him.”
Doeren is in his 10th season at N.C. State, and he has coached a Thomas brother the past six years — Thayer, 2017-22 (with a redshirt and COVID-19 exemption), and Drake, 2019-22. They’re contributing to what has the potential to be a new era for Wolfpack football on the national scene. The N.C. State-Clemson game marks the first top-10 matchup in school history. The game is crucial to N.C. State chasing its first ACC title since 1979.
Drake has a year of eligibility remaining and could return in 2023. If he chooses that option, his N.C. State career would then overlap with Lex’s. If Lex ultimately uses his redshirt year and spends five seasons in Raleigh, that would mean a Thomas represented the Wolfpack in 11 consecutive seasons, 2017 through 2027.
That’s a lot of road trips for Trevor and Shelly.
Lex was a sixth-grader when Doeren recruited Thayer. Lex, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder who is intent on playing quarterback in college despite his height, didn’t have any scholarship offers until he attended N.C. State’s camp prior to his junior year. But Clark says there is more to N.C. State offering Lex a scholarship than the family bond.
“They had known him since he was in middle school,” Clark said. “They knew he was a smart player. When he went to their camp, they were able to pick his brain. They saw how much he understood playing quarterback.”
Usually, Thursday nights allow time for a family reunion — Thayer and Drake come home for a family meal cooked by mom. But the routine has been disrupted by the weather.
“I talk to my brothers a lot,” Lex said of a typical week. “I see them on Thursdays, after games on Saturdays and on Sundays.”
The national cameras will be on the N.C. State-Clemson game, but don’t try and tell the Thomas family there isn’t something special about Heritage’s showdown.
“Millbrook is like a crosstown rival,” Lex said. “It’s always a good game when we play them.”
And the Thomas family hasn’t been taking its final Heritage season for granted.
“Your senior year is your last ride,” Lex said. “You don’t get your senior year back. There’s nothing like playing on Friday nights with your best friends.”