Next Level: Area Products Excel in College Football
The college football career of Cam Thomas at UNC has come down to five more regular season games and then hopefully some bowling.
Including last Saturday's contest against Georgia Southern, a 42-12 Tar Heel victory, the former North Moore star has started 19 games in a row at defensive tackle. He recorded three solo stops as the Heels improved to 4-2 on the season.
Thomas played in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte last December when his team lost 31-30 to Boston College. This year's squad was ranked as high as No. 19 before losing to Georgia Tech and Virginia.
The difficult remaining schedule is packed with both excitement and peril. Following a bye Saturday, the Tar Heels play prime time Thursday night games on ESPN against Florida State on October 22, and at No. 4 Virginia Tech on October 29.
"This is a time to relax, heal our wounds and try to fix everything," Thomas said by phone on Monday, referring to the bye week. "We know what we have at stake. We have some pretty big games, but we have to take them one at a time."
At 6-foot-3, 330 pounds, Thomas is not much bigger but a lot stronger than when he played for the Mustangs under former coach Bryan Lee. In addition to being a major force on defense, he also gained 798 yards and rushed for 12 touchdowns as a senior.
His current position coach is Tar Heel associate head coach John Blake. Blake was the defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys back in 1993 when UNC head coach Butch Davis was the defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson.
Blake describes Thomas as a person who has made large strides on and off the football field.
"He wants to be the best and play at the next level," Blake said by phone. "He's doing well on the football field and I think he's maturing as a young man. He's big and strong and he's quick. He just needs to keep working on his technique and get better each week."
An African-American Studies major, Thomas is the son of Janet and Milton Person of Eagle Springs.
"It's every kids dream in every sport to play at the next level," Thomas said. "Right now that's just a thought. You have to do college first."
Danny Heimrich earned All-Mid-Southeastern Conference honors as the punter for Pinecrest in 2007. He was also the Patriot place kicker. Now a sophomore at Louisburg College, he's helping the 5-1 Hurricanes in a big way in the field position department.
In Saturday's 55-8 victory over Southern Tech, his only punt was a 46-yarder that was downed at the 2-yard line.
According to head coach John Sala, Heimrich's respectable 36.2 yards per punt average that ranks him 27th among National Junior College Athletic Association punters is actually misleading.
"Danny is having an awesome season," the coach said. "Eight of his 19 punts have been inside the 20 so he is losing some yardage because of that. We've allowed zero return yardage in six games. He's a huge weapon."
The son of John and Jodi Heimrich uses both the conventional and rugby punting methods. An exceptional athlete, his weaponry also includes the ability to take off with the ball or throw it.
Sala has given him the license to make that decision in short and moderate yardage situations. So far this season he has run for one first down and passed for two more.
Jody Maness (North Moore), LaDarius Graham (Pinecrest) and Zach Moore (Union Pines) all saw action as linebackers for their college teams on Saturday.
Maness, a redshirt freshman and two-time captain for the Mustangs, was credited with a solo tackle during Campbell's 35-17 home loss to Dayton. Graham saw action in Greensboro College's 35-13 loss to North Carolina Wesleyan. His Pride teammates include sophomore wide receiver Mitch Johnson (Pinecrest) and senior defensive lineman Nathan Irvin (Union Pines).
Also contributing in a reserve role for his team, Moore, a freshman at Guilford College, made a solo stop in his team's 48-6 victory over Southern Virginia. He was one of the Viking captains for two years. One of his college teammates is freshman Lyle Barnett (North Moore), a backup punter at Guilford and an all-conference honorable mention selection for the Mustangs.
A trio of former Pinecrest players are expected to redshirt in their freshman years. Jarrin Wooten opened the season No. 2 on the depth chart at one of the wide reseiver positions for Winston-Salem State but has been sidelined by a shoulder injury since then. Spencer Bishop is a scout team tight end for a Wake Forest program that redshirts many of its first-year players. Josh Scales is taking the same route at Fayetteville State.
Other local college football players include Sam Frist (Pinecrest), a senior at Kent State, and sophomore Ryan Murray (Pinecrest) and freshman John Gallimore (Union Pines) at Methodist. In Minnesota, Sam Cole (Pinecrest) is a starting offensive lineman as a freshman for a Rochester Community and Technical College team that is off to a 7-0 start. Zavione Thompson (Pinecrest) and Anthony McLean (Pinecrest) have been seeing action on special teams as freshmen at Fond du lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minn.
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