James “J.T.” Thomas is one of the greatest players to come through Florida State. Hailing from Macon, Georgia, Thomas was FSU’s first black football player to see the field during a varsity game, winning a starting cornerback spot in his sophomore year (freshman were ineligible to play). After being challenged in front of the team the day before the game by none other than Bill Parcells, Thomas blocked two back-to-back field goals in his first ever game in 1970, securing a victory against Louisville.
Later that season Thomas tied the school record for most interceptions in a game with three. He finished that year named as a first-team Sophomore All-American by Football News. The following year he was an honorable mention All-American. As a senior in 1972 Thomas was named a consensus first-team All-American.
Thomas was a true playmaker and a fan favorite. Every time he rushed a punt or a field goal the fans would stand in anticipation of something great. Thomas never disappointed. He didn’t just break down barriers — he changed the program forever. Florida State is the one true DBU, but that legacy didn’t start with Deion Sanders. It wasn’t Terrell Buckley, or LeRoy Butler, or even Bobby Butler. It was J.T. Thomas.
The 6’2 196 pound Thomas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 24th overall pick of the 1973 NFL draft. The Steelers paired Thomas with fellow cornerback and Hall of Famer Mel Blount, in a pairing that was later named the sixth-best of all time by NFL.com. Together, they helped make up the immortal “Steel Curtain” defense that terrorized opponents in the 1970s. In his second season Thomas picked up five interceptions on his way to winning a Super Bowl. Then the following year he won another one just for good measure. The year after that Thomas was named to the Pro Bowl. In 1978 Thomas sat out the season with Boeck’s sarcoid, a blood disorder, while the Steelers won a third Super Bowl. But Thomas returned the following year and, oh yeah, won another Super Bowl. He also got inducted to the FSU Hall of Fame that year. Thomas retired in 1982 with 20 interceptions, two touchdowns, four rings, and a legacy that will live forever.