"Mariner, start warming up!”
My coach’s shouts chased every last bit of color from my face. It was Aug. 22, 2008, and the starting quarterback was limping to the sideline in the biggest game of the season.
But upon hearing my name called down the sideline, Logan Thomas immediately reversed direction, out of breath, said, “I’m good!” and hobbled back to the huddle.
In central Virginia, the start of high school football season is basically a holiday. That season, the opening game was more important than usual, as Logan — who would soon commit to Virginia Tech — was leading the state’s preseason No. 1 Brookville High School in a battle against division rival and No. 2 Amherst County High School.
Luckily, I didn’t have to go under center for Brookville that night. Standing 5-feet, 10-inches in cleats and weighing 160 pounds soaking wet, I was undersized to be a quarterback, even as a backup. With the wind at my back I could throw the ball 40 yards, maybe.
But that didn’t matter.
At 6-feet, 6-inches and 220 pounds with a rocket for an arm and a mean stiff-arm, Logan was our unquestioned leader as we took the field that night against our top rival. Amherst had won the state championship in 2004, 2006 and 2007. The Lancers beat us 67-6 my freshman year and 42-7 my sophomore year.
We usually started with four non-district games and finished off the regular season with our six district opponents. But for whatever reason, we were slated to play the Lancers in Week 1.
That’s right, in Week 1, the No. 1 team in the state was facing off against the No. 2 team in the state. I had never seen so many people at a high school football game.
It was a back-and-forth game as we went into the locker room tied at 14 — thanks to a 50-yard fumble return for a touchdown just before the end of the half from Logan’s cousin and current Tech defensive end Zack McCray.
Late in the third quarter, we were leading 17-14 when the unspeakable happened. After a scramble on second down, Logan was very slow to get up, experiencing a cramp in his leg. He began to limp toward the sideline when the thought of replacing the star player sent chills down my spine.
Thankfully, I didn’t set foot on the field that day. Logan stayed on the field.
We would go on to win, 24-21.
I’ve known Logan since I was 8 years old, when we played Timberlake Lions football together in Lynchburg, Va. Back then, he was our running back, and even back then he was the best athlete on the field — only he wasn’t quite as scary as he is now.
“Believe it or not, in little league he wasn’t 260 lbs.,” said Alec Thompson, a friend who played alongside Thomas for the better part of a decade. “He was more of the tall and lanky kid that could out-stride anyone on the field once he got loose.”
As those who have played the game know, football is not an easy sport — even for those at a young age — a lesson Logan would learn the hard way.
“I hated it the first two days,” he said. “Then, after the first week I started to love it, because we were done running. I didn’t like running too much.”
In 2000, the first year we played together, our team won the Central Virginia Youth League championship, largely because of him.
“In little league we ran two plays,” McCray said. “It was I-Right 44, where we handed the ball to Logan and he ran right. When that didn’t work we ran I-Left 45 where we handed the ball to Logan and he ran left.
“Those were really the only two plays we ran, and when you only have to run two plays that means you have a pretty special somebody in the backfield.”
And while we would play Lions football together several more times throughout elementary and early middle school, I didn’t really get to know Logan until I was in the seventh grade, when we played baseball together.
At that point, he was probably about 6’3” and maybe 190 pounds — at least a head taller than everyone else on our team.
He also had the most range of any shortstop, quickest bat speed and strongest arm in our 13- and 14-year-old Dixie youth league. And if that didn’t make him stand out enough, his size-17 shoes did.
“I enjoyed baseball, but at the same time, it wasn’t fast-paced enough for me,” he said. “I guess that’s the reason I didn’t stick with it.”
And even though I was nearly a foot shorter than him, and failed to assist in turning a single double play as his second baseman that season, he was never anything but nice to me. In fact, growing up, Thomas was never anything but nice to anybody.
“That’s just how I was raised,” he said. “I’ve never really been a person to yell. I was real cool and just tried to stay laid back. Some things, they just don’t matter. You go out there and try to have fun, but you don’t try to treat anybody different. Just treat everybody the way you want to be treated.”
Those who know him well know his upbringing wasn’t exactly normal, but that didn’t stop those who looked after Logan from instilling a positive, respectful attitude.
“I think that goes back to the family, the friends he hung out with, the families of the friends he hung out with, the community, his coaches, the teachers,” said his mother, Kim Tarazona. “He was really put in a neat position to grow up in Lynchburg. Everybody just kind of took him under their wing and took a lot of pride in that, I think.”
His interactions with his real father over the past 20-plus years have been few and far between, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.
“I don’t think he really paid attention to it,” Tarazona said. “That’s just how he grew up. His support system was there from the time he was born, and he didn’t know any different.”
Thomas was raised primarily by his mother, but there to help were her parents, Cliff and Shirl Thomas, as well as her sister, Dina McCray and her husband Charles (teammate Zack McCray’s parents).
“It’s just the way our family operates,” Dina McCray said. “We’re there to take care of each other. I didn’t see it as any other role. As Kim would help out with my kids, I would help out with hers, as she worked, or vice-versa. We’re just there together all the time.”
And as that family dynamic developed, so did the relationship between Logan and Zack.
“We were like brothers,” Zack McCray said.
“Me and Logan have been inseparable since I was born. Until he came to college the longest we had ever been apart was a week and a half, maybe.
“Our family’s really unique, especially in Logan’s case. My grandpa was definitely his father figure, but I feel like my dad was more of the disciplinarian that I don’t think either of us really appreciated until we got older. At the same time, we were a really tight-knit family and still are to this day. Family to me isn’t just my mom, dad and sister. It’s my mom, dad, sister, Logan, our grandparents, his family — that’s just how I was raised.”