BLACKSBURG, Va. — The tallest starting quarterback in Virginia Tech history sat up in his chair, a frown spreading across his face.
But Logan Thomas, the Hokies’ 6-foot-6, 254-pound signal-caller, swore he wasn’t mad. He was just a little annoyed at hearing another person offer a common refrain about his home town.
“Nobody knows Lynchburg for anything but Jerry Falwell. Or they’ll talk about the Lynchburg in Tennessee where they make Jack Daniel’s,” Thomas said, the smile returning to his face. “Maybe I could give it a new name. That’s what I hope to do.”
With just 26 career collegiate passes to his name, Thomas will be the biggest unknown for No. 13 Virginia Tech as it tries to turn Coach Frank Beamer’s 25th season at the school into a memorable one. But what the redshirt sophomore is beginning to realize is that his story may already be a part of the fabric of Lynchburg, Va., a city in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains that embraced him even as a child.
While his mother, Kim Tarazona, worked the night shift at a juvenile detention center, Thomas spent his early childhood with his grandparents, Cliff and Shirley Thomas. Around age 6 he moved in with his cousin, Zack McCray, and his aunt and uncle.
As he grew older, Thomas spent many nights at friends’ houses. He says now he could knock on any number of front doors in Lynchburg and have a place to sleep. The community of adults that watched over him began calling themselves “Team Thomas.”
“I always wanted him to be in an environment where he felt safe with people who loved and cared for him. I knew my family would do that,” said Tarazona, who played volleyball at James Madison. “But the people in the community and my very close friends, they really came and stepped in. We wanted to make sure that he would succeed, and the people that were around him took that on as a project.”
“I’ve never had a call about him, either,” she added. “Logan was one of those kids where you just had to look at him sideways and he knew he needed to straighten up.”
Thomas’s biological father, former James Madison basketball player Jeff Chambers, did not raise him. Basketball, though, was Thomas’s passion until his cousin, McCray, persuaded him to come out for the local recreational football league at age 9.
Thomas excelled as a running back and wide receiver on the football field, while also wowing folks on the basketball court. Always taller than children his age, Thomas sprouted six inches to 6-4 between eighth and ninth grade. He then had 55 catches as a sophomore for Brookville High’s varsity football team.
That’s when Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring started hearing rumors about “that Logan Thomas kid,” often from strangers in restaurants during his recruiting trips to Lynchburg area high schools.
“Going into high school, everyone knew who Logan Thomas was just because the athleticism he possessed; nobody’s ever seen that in our area,” said McCray, now a redshirt freshman defensive end for the Hokies. “It was incredible watching him play any kind of sport, and the older he grew, the more attention he demanded.”
Following a breakout showing at a University of Virginia summer camp, coaches from dozens of schools — including Oklahoma, Florida State and a host of Southeastern Conference schools — began descending on Lynchburg. Brookville High Coach Jeff Woody even changed his entire offense to showcase his star player, who had switched to quarterback.
By his senior year, when Thomas led Brookville to the Virginia AA Division 3 state championship game, the stands were so full for home games, fans were forced to line the track around the school’s football field.
A generation before, the Lynchburg area produced five-time Super Bowl champion Charles Haley and future pros such as Virginia Tech assistant Cornell Brown and Virginia assistant Anthony Poindexter. But for this city of close to 75,000, which prides itself on maintaining a small-town feel, Thomas was a big deal.
“In Lynchburg, he’s famous. He knocked down the door and put us back on the recruiting map,” Woody said. “Plus, you can’t miss him. He’s so big and can throw it a country mile. He’s a freak of nature.”
Thomas laughs off all the attention he receives during his frequent visits home during the offseason. He admits he can’t go to the mall anymore without having to talk with 15 or 20 people he hardly knows.
It’s only gotten worse since he was officially anointed the starting quarterback at Virginia Tech during spring practice. Walking around town or going to church these days usually results in impromptu autograph sessions.
“I think Lynchburg sees me as that hometown boy because we really haven’t had much come out,” Thomas says. “Even U-Va. fans there say, ‘That’s my boy.’ It’s pretty crazy.”
According to Thomas, the biggest reason he came to Blacksburg — about a two-hour drive from home — in the first place was because “it felt like a smaller version of Lynchburg.”
“If I do well this year, maybe when people think about Lynchburg, they’ll think about Virginia,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it would be linked to anything population-wise or economy-wise, but I love Lynchburg to death and hopefully it would make the people there feel a lot better about the place they live in.”