WEST POINT, N.Y. – On a day of bitter disappointment for Temple's football team, one of the feel-good stories emerged when center Gordon Thomas not only saw his first action of the season but made his first collegiate start.
The 5-foot-10, 296-pound redshirt junior is a product of Philadelphia's Imhotep Charter. He doesn't have ideal size and didn't take the traditional path to the starting lineup.
Thomas is a walk-on who still isn't on scholarship. In his previous two seasons, he appeared in eight games, never coming close to the starting lineup.
Thomas replaced redshirt freshman Matt Hennessy in the 31-28 overtime loss at Army on Saturday. According to coach Geoff Collins, Hennessy had been ill all week and didn't make the trip. Right tackle Cole Boozer was the only starter who was also in the opening-day starting lineup for the depleted offensive line.
"You never really notice when you have big moments in your life, and this morning when I walked out I said, 'Today, this is a big moment in my life,' " Thomas said.
Thomas received high praise from his coaches and teammates.
"My hat is off to Gordon Thomas," Collins said. "He is [about] 5-9, 300 pounds, a walk-on who has given his heart and soul to this team and teammates, and he was out battling and competing against a really good front four."
Added quarterback Frank Nutile: "He really knows how to break down a defense and knows everything, and he is like a coach, and we call him 'Coach Gordo.' I had no doubt in my mind that he and all the other guys would step up and play great, and they played their butts off all week in practice."
While Thomas said the loss was devastating, he felt pride in actually playing. He said he likely won't return for a fifth year because he expects to graduate in May with a degree in criminal justice.
Yet, as somebody who has waited his turn, he believes that there was a bright side despite the gloomy result.
"It is a tough loss and it hurts, but I am excited at the way we played," he said. "We played hard and played a good team and took it to the last second. I look at the positive."