Note: The following appears in the North Carolina football gameday program.
Xavier Thomas grew up in Florence, S.C., but he ultimately attended IMG Academy during his senior year of high school. While there, he was a standout defensive edge player. Upon joining the Tigers in 2018, he was ranked as the No. 4 player in his class according to ESPN.
Thomas’ first two years at Clemson brought much success. In his freshman campaign, he was had 43 tackles and 3.5 sacks while playing 304 snaps in 15 games. It was during that year that the Tigers captured their third national championship. He was a key player in the historic campaign for the program by being named a first-team freshman All-American by multiple outlets.
This success continued during his sophomore season, when the athletic Tiger earned Third-Team All-ACC honors after playing 434 snaps and 12 games, recording 31 tackles and two sacks.
Following those first two years in the spotlight, Thomas opened up about his struggles with depression that began prior to his junior season.
“My junior season, when COVID hit, I went through a depression year, and I got overweight,” admitted Thomas. “I had a bunch of stuff going on.”
Following a difficult 2020 season and COVID-19 year, while also dealing with struggles off the field, Thomas continued to play the sport he loves due to his newfound faith and personal resilience.
“Going through that depression year was what developed me in regards to my faith and growing in my faith. That’s what really kept me going…always keeping my faith and trusting in God through everything, regardless of whatever I went through.”
Thomas’ growth showed in the 2021 season both in the weight room and on the field. He was a Third-Team All-ACC selection that season, as he registered 27 tackles, 3.5 sacks and two caused fumbles in 12 games. It was in wake of this bounce-back success that Thomas regained his belief in himself in hopes of continuing to play football in the NFL.
Right before what he believed was to be his final year, and fifth year, at Clemson in 2022, the defensive end broke the fifth metatarsal bone in his foot, which limited him to only three games.
“Going through the broken foot was frustrating, but I had already built my faith up from being at rock bottom throughout that depression year. I also had all my teammates’ and coaches’ support.”
After being granted an additional year of eligibility due to COVID-19, Thomas was granted a sixth year of eligibility due to playing less than five games in 2022. He wanted to string together a healthy college season before testing out the NFL.
“I wasn’t going to be healed enough for the NFL Combine. I wanted to fully heal and put a full healthy season together before I went to the next level, which I plan on doing after this season.”
Now having years of experience on the Tiger defensive line, he has been blessed to play alongside many Clemson standouts, including K.J. Henry, Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell, all who he still stays in contact with.
“K.J. has been my best friend since I’ve come into college. We were with Christian, Dexter and Clelin in Austin this past summer training with them. I’ve been training with them to get to the next level. Developing a relationship with them has been a blessing. They are obviously great players, but also great people.”
In what is his last year with Clemson football, while he has hit the ground running again on the gridiron, the Palmetto State native has also partnered with Make-A-Wish South Carolina to help children in the state. He hopes that his story inspires others to continue in their own battles.
“I’ve always loved helping out in the community. My platform is used to raise money for kids in the hospital. People can put money in so these kids have an opportunity to get a ticket for a game, championship game and events like that. I want to be an inspiration to people to never give up and never give up on yourself, because I could have easily given up on myself a long time ago, going through my depression year and wanting to quit football. I want to be an inspiration to any kids out there who are going through tough times.”
As Thomas’ final season in a Clemson uniform comes to a close, it is clear that he has his sights set on the NFL. Whatever success brings on the field, there is no doubt that #3 has already left a profound impact throughout his six years in the Clemson community.