Whenever I think of Logan Thomas these days, I also think of this line from a Jewel song: “And heartache came to visit me, but I knew it wasn’t ever after.”
Logan Thomas knew, also, which is why he persevered for years while his pro football career appeared to be crumbling beneath him. That’s what makes Thomas’ emergence this season as one of the National Football League’s best tight ends such a good story.
Thomas was, arguably, the best athlete ever to come out of Lynchburg, VA, which is saying something because that area has produced a dozen NFL players (including Leland Melvin, who eventually became an astronaut), at least that many baseball major leaguers, a couple of golf champions and an Olympic medalist. Something in the water, maybe.
Nevertheless, Thomas stood out. Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 250 pounds as a Brookville High School senior, he was a man among boys dominating football, basketball, and track. Most of the major college football powers contacted him after his senior season in 2009 when he was playing quarterback. Still, he chose nearby Virginia Tech, where he felt comfortable, and led the Hokies to two bowl games. After his junior year, he was one of those in the conversation about who would be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but he decided to play one more season in Blacksburg.
Unfortunately, that season was a disaster. Thomas threw almost as many interceptions as touchdown passes and began to appear tentative and confused behind center. The question “What’s wrong with Logan Thomas?” trended on Twitter.
What was wrong, among other things, was that Tech’s offensive line that year was young, inexperienced, and unable to provide Thomas with the protection to which he had become accustomed. More often than not, he found himself running for his life, and the passes he once delivered with precision went sailing over the heads of his receivers because he was forced to release them too quickly. His confidence dwindled as the season went on, and he all but disappeared from the pro draft rankings.
The annual NFL Combine, where draft prospects are measured and timed and tested for various abilities, put Thomas back in the spotlight. He threw the football farther than any other quarterback there. His speed in the 40-yard dash matched that of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In the end, the Arizona Cardinals took a chance on him in the seventh round of the draft.
After struggling in the pre-season, Thomas started as the Cardinals’ third-string quarterback. Late in the year, when the first two were injured, he was given the opportunity to start. He failed badly, and Arizona released him.
For the next four years, Thomas bounced from the Miami Dolphins to the New York Giants to the Buffalo Bills to the Detroit Lions, spending most of that time on “practice squads” — the football equivalent of the Humane Society. The only publicity he received during that time came when the Bills players awarded him a game ball after he and his wife Brandie lost a daughter to a premature birth that week.
It was the Lions who looked at Thomas’ size, speed, huge hands, and the jumping ability he once displayed in basketball and track and decided to try him at tight end. The change took, and he escaped off the practice squad and onto the field. Before this season, he was traded to the Washington Football Team (the previous nickname, Redskins, had been scrapped with no replacement), only to test positive for COVID-19 soon after his arrival and forced to quarantine for 10 days.
“I hated it,” he said. “You had to be at home … the rest of your teammates are out there getting better.”
You won’t find many more quotes anywhere else from Thomas, who has described himself as “kind of laid back, the sort of person who won’t make anybody feel uncomfortable.”
Except on Sundays.
Despite his brief dance with COVID (he never developed any symptoms), Thomas earned more and more playing time in Washington, then caught all nine passes thrown his way and scored a touchdown on Dec. 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football — his long-awaited coming out party.
Instead of asking, “What’s wrong with Logan Thomas?” football fans nationwide were suddenly asking, “Who is this Logan Thomas?”
There is, I think, a lesson here. I’m sure there were times during his NFL exile that Thomas thought seriously about an alternative career in real estate or insurance or car sales. On every football team, the quarterback is the leader; the tight end, an afterthought. That meant Thomas was being asked to change not only his position but his core identity.
Or to borrow from another song, done by Jennifer Nettles: “It’s a lot to see, who I am and who I am not.”
Apparently, Logan Thomas finally got it right.
Darrell Laurant is a veteran journalist who previously worked at the News & Advance (Lynchburg). He published over 7,000 pieces in three decades. Darrell has covered papal visits, the Olympics, American sports, and political issues in Virginia. He has also written a variety of books, including "Inspiration Street: Two City Blocks that Helped Change America."