CEDAR FALLS — Over the past decade in college sports, it’s become common for a student-athlete to transfer if playing time doesn’t arrive as quickly as expected.
Athletes who stick with their initial team and don’t become starters until they are upperclassmen have become the exception.
Northern Iowa senior defensive end Seth Thomas is one of those exceptions.
A Stillwell, Kan., native, Thomas arrived on the UNI campus in 2015 and redshirted, then spent his next three seasons as a reserve. Thomas acknowledges it would have been easy to transfer someplace closer to home that was promising a starting spot, but that’s not how his parents raised him and his belief in the Panthers system kept him in Cedar Falls.
“It’s just sticking with the system and staying true to it, and that’s what I believe is not happening a lot anymore,” Thomas said. “Over the years with (defensive coordinator Jeremiah) Johnson being recruited, and (head) coach (Mark) Farley here and (defensive line) coach (Bryce) Paup ... they helped me feel more comfortable in being a young adult trying to learn (from) my failures and grow as a human.
“They’ve always been there for me.”
Thomas pointed out Paup leaving UNI to be a part of Minnesota’s staff in 2017 was a challenging year for him, given their close relationship. But it ultimately tested him and forced him to continue to grow.
His maturation and perseverance ended up paying off recently. He secured a starting defensive end spot on this year’s team and has quickly become a key component in UNI’s ability to switch between its three- and four-down linemen defenses.
“Seth has been a pleasant, productive addition to the defense,” Farley said. “He always did his job, but now the production that he’s getting is much better than any season that he’s played. His first two games have been extremely good. His get-off and his pass-rush is what’s improved and I think that’s why we see more production from him than maybe before.”
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Through two games, Thomas has made the most of his starting gig, registering 10 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and 3 1/2 tackles for loss.
“A lot of (my improvement) is just maturing in the game,” Thomas said. “The majority of where I’m learning to become a better player on the field is coach Bryce Paup. I couldn’t be more thankful for the guy. He’s helped me become a more comfortable athlete on the field.”