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Gateway’s Thomas signs with Hamline U.

Posted on Saturday, May 12, 2018 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson
Sports Editor

Triston Thomas, who helped Gateway’s football program make the first two playoff appearances in its history, will be moving on to college to hopefully bring a program its first conference title in 30 years.

Considering he’s headed to St. Paul, Minnesota to do it, it’s a leap.

Triston Thomas (center), a four-year varsity Panther, signs his letter of intent Wednedsay as friends, mother Sophia Thomas, Gateway Athletic Director Travis James and Head Coach Marlin Roberts look on.

Thomas, who played offense, defense and special teams in four varsity seasons with the Panthers, has signed to play at Hamline University a member of the Division III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where he said coaches have told him he’d most likely be able to contribute as a freshman on offense as a slot receiver and in the return game.

“I watched my friends Dennis (Briggs, with Florida State) and Jerimaya (Messam, with Garden City Community College) sign on Feb. 7 (National Signing Day), I can’t believe it’s been three months since that. God told me to stay patient, and here I am signing,” he said. “It’s such a relief, because I didn’t want to give this up, I’ve been playing since the age of four,” he said. “I knew I had to play college football somewhere.”

Thomas said the Minnesota school made first contact; they texted him “out of the blue” after getting his contact information from recruiting a Panther teammate.

“They didn’t even now we were teammates, so I kind of took that as a sign,” he said. “I met (head coach Chip) Taylor at a college recruiting event in Polk County this spring, and we hit it off really well.”

He said he’d also attracted the attention of Heidelberg (Ohio) University and Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, which is in the process of forming its program.

“I wanted to go to Gulf Coast, but it had no track record and the situation just wasn’t the right fit,” he said.

The Hamline Pipers were 2-8 in 2017 after going 5-5 in 2016 in Taylor’s first year as head coach.

Thomas, who played on the varsity since his freshman year, played in all phases of the game in his Panther career but made his biggest mark on defense. Last season he registered 77 tackles and three interceptions, one returned for a score. He also scored on kickoff and punt returns in 2017, when Gateway went 6-5, qualified for the Class 9A playoffs under the state’s new merit points system.

GHS Coach Marlin Roberts called Thomas “a hard-nosed player and a great kid.”

“I’m very happy that this worked out,” the coach said. “He was a leader this season, vocally and by example. He’d been a safety for three years, but this year we had to move him up into the box to be a linebacker because we needed it, and because he was tough enough to do it.

“I wish I could clone him because we’re going to miss him. He won’t be an easy one to replace.”

Thomas said Gateway, Roberts and his staff made him the competitive player he became.

“Playing for Gateway under Coach Marlin and these guys made me a better man, they helped me see life on and off the field,” he said. “We fought, we argued like we were family, but we always hugged it out at the end.”

At Wednesday’s signing, Thomas was joined by his “church family,” Barbara and Bishop Alvin Wolliston and his mother, Sophia Thomas, who addressed current players and former players who showed support.

“It doesn’t matter the division you’re in, or how you get there, as long as you get there,” Ms. Thomas said to those attending. “It’s how you finish. Others can finish, too. I want you to finish.”