The incredible journey of 5 star LSU commit Kardell Thomas began long before he ever stepped on a football field. I sat down with Karl, Janice and Kardell Thomas to learn about their family’s story and the heart behind the hype.
There is nothing Janice Thomas wanted more than to have a child. However, this dream started to look like just that, a dream. Over a span of 7 years, Janice lost three children in the process of trying to have a baby. She had two surgeries to improve her chances of conceiving, but they failed; the second surgery seemed to shut the door completely. “They said I had grapefruit sized fibroids along my uterine wall. It all had to be removed” she said. Janice now had no walls to even carry a baby in her womb. At this point, her physical ability to carry a child was gone, but her determination was stronger than ever. She consistently went back to her doctor, begging him to do anything to help her bare a child. Her doctor’s words still ring clearly in her mind to this day, “Mrs. Thomas, I don’t want to be rude, but you will never have a baby, and I do not know how many ways I can tell you that.”
Fast forward a few months - Janice realized she developed an unusual food craving; Taco Bell and applesauce, every single night. Then, it hit her. She went and took a pregnancy test. Sure enough, the test was positive! Two days later, Janice made an appointment with her Doc. The doubting doctor was anything but amused. He coldly told Janice, “Mrs. Thomas, I’m very busy today and I do not have time for this. I’ve told you that you will never be pregnant.” He then offered to get her into support groups for women who could not have children. Once again, Janice refused to take no for an answer. She demanded he run a pregnancy test on her. He ran the test; to his pure amazement, Janice Thomas was in fact pregnant. However, his amazement quickly turned to panic as he frantically said, “but you have no walls, how in the world are you going to carry this baby?!” Well, by the grace of God, she did. The first six months were difficult, filled with sickness and pain. Eventually, she could barely hold down any food. The struggles came to a climax during her seventh month check up, the ultrasound showed Janice had no amniotic fluid. This is a life-threatening state for the unborn baby. Janice was immediately rushed to the hospital for an emergency delivery. All the heartache, prayers, and complications were well worth it when on September 6th, 2000, Kardell Thomas was born. The Thomas family now had their miracle child!
“Mrs. Thomas, I don’t want to be rude, but you will never have a baby, and I do not know how many ways I can tell you that.”
Kardell began playing football at the age of three with the Oakside Panthers. His father, Karl Thomas was the coach. You could say his dad was the first one to scout Kardell’s ability to play guard. Karl said, “Kardell was a little shaky then, he wanted to run the ball, but didn’t quite get the hang of it. So I said, well we better put him on the line and let him hit people.” At the age of three, Kardell found his home on the offensive line. “So we put him on the line, and he pretty much dominated the pee-wee leagues. We had to move him up to the bigger boys cause he was always bigger and stronger.” Kardell quickly started to use his newfound tackling skills around the house. Janice Thomas recalls a time when she was cooking in the kitchen and her five year old ran up to her and said: “momma momma, I can tackle you.” Smiling she said, “ok Kardell, show me how you tackle.” Janice was standing at the stove when Kardell ran up and tackled her. Next thing she knows, she is flying across the kitchen from the stove to the dishwasher. Janice said Kardell’s tackle startled her, she was not expecting that power from her five-year-old, and she never forgot that moment.
His parents talked about when LSU used to be on the TV, Kardell would look at them and say, “Daddy, Momma, I’m going to play for the LSU Tigers.” Kardell was only five at the time. They said he would imitate everything the players did on the field. Janice said, “He was five years old and knew he’d play for LSU.” So I guess you could say LSU has had a silent commit since 2005.
With all this talent at such a young age, it didn’t take long for others to take notice of Kardell. Karl recalls a story of his son's first experience with LSU’s coaching staff. “He really got the attention of the staff at an LSU camp in 8th grade. Initially, he was with the middle schoolers and ended up running over everybody. Coach Grimes stepped in and said, oh no buddy, you go down there with the high schoolers.” As an 8th grader, Kardell placed 22nd out of 600 camp participants. Karl said after camp an article was written that basically said, “we don’t know what’s going on with this Kardell kid yet, but watch out for him.”
A lot has happened since that 8th-grade camp. Kardell is now the #1 guard in the nation, Rivals 100 Five Star Challenge MVP, and most importantly an LSU commit. Kardell is often referred to as the leader of the 2019 class, but it’s not something he pays much attention to. “To be honest, I really don’t think about it at all. Knowing people look at me as a leader, I just try to set an example" says Kardell. He may not publicly declare himself the team leader, but a leader is exactly what his mother has raised him to be. “If you’re a follower, you have some problems in the Thomas’ house” said Janice. “I do not allow him to be a follower. You’re a leader.” Kardell’s credits his faith as his foundation in life. He says, “My greatest strength is God, and I consult the Word for everything.”
Kardell is currently in his senior year at Southern Lab, but already feels right at home at LSU. “I have great relationships with all the coaches, but my strongest connections are with Coach O and Coach Cregg. I’ve also got a good relationship with all of the LSU players. Fehoko, Lawrence and me have sat in the locker room and talk about how they’re going to push me, and make sure I’m ready to go. I’ll definitely mesh well with everyone. I’m not arrogant, anyone can talk to me, I’m there to work.”
Thomas may not be on the team yet, but that hasn’t stopped him from setting future goals. “My ultimate goal is starting at LSU as a freshman, and become an all American. Starting from the jump and earning that position, that’s the mentality I’m going in there with.” He also says he wants to do something no one else has done before, win the Heisman as an offensive lineman. “I feel like I can do it,” says Kardell. You may laugh or think it’s too lofty of a dream, but remember Kardell has been told ‘no’ since the womb. What’s another seemingly impossible goal to overcome?
For many, the 2019 class cannot step onto the field soon enough. That day will be especially sweet for Karl Thomas, as he watches his son finish what he started at LSU. Kardell is not the first one in his family to make it onto the LSU football team. In 85’ his father, Karl Thomas transferred and walked onto the team. “I had to sit out my first year, but that next year I was ready to play.” Karl was playing nose tackle and ranked #5th in the team's depth chart. However, after an outstanding spring game performance, he jumped from #5 to #2 on the depth chart. “It seemed like everything was heading in the right direction,” and it was until an unforeseen event changed everything. “I injured my knee the first practice after the spring game. My knee was completely torn up” said Karl. While Karl may not have been able to fulfill his football career at LSU, he will be able to watch his son finish what he started. "It really means a lot. I can't wait to see him in that jersey with Thomas on the back of it."
“My greatest strength is God, and I consult the Word for everything.”
Fans have been able to witness the rise of Kardell on the field, but that doesn’t happen without the unending support of his parents off the field. “If your child has a dream, we as parents have to feed into it; because their dream becomes our dream. You have to make sure that you keep them committed. We never accept, I can’t, from Kardell. You make your choice and then stick to your word and your goal at any cost.” Janice believes this is a great foundation for any young person who wants to play at the next level.
My final question to the Thomas family was if there was anything they wanted the LSU fan base to know. “Well a lot of people think I’m the meanest person ever, but that’s crazy,” said Kardell. “I’m not mean at all you guys. I see people staring at me, and they know who I am, but they don’t want to say anything because they see how I do people on the field, but no, I’m not mean at all.” Simply put, he’s a beast on the field, but a gentle giant off of it. Finally, there’s no better way to wrap up than Janice’s response to what she would want the LSU fan base to know. “Get ready, get ready because Kardell Jamal Thomas is coming to rock LSU.”
Written By: Meghan Redd - October 19, 2018