This article was originally appeared in The Daily Barometer on October 6, 2015. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
Jason Thomas uses a myriad of resources in his role as the Director of Football Operations with the OSU football team.
Jason Thomas is not your typical Director of Football Operations.
Thomas, who was hired in December as one of Gary Andersen’s core staff members, has a diverse skill set that he applies to his many administrative responsibilities of the Oregon State football program.
He’s also a hip-hop artist. He has two degrees from Utah State. He has tattoos. He’s a churchgoer, husband, father, musician and former football player. Above all, he aims to be a role model and mentor for OSU football players.
Luckily for him and for those around him, Thomas is able to relate to the players and fellow staff members on multiple levels. He’s gone through hardship and has demonstrated perseverance: after tearing his ACL in high school, he returned in the same season and played four more games.
“The reason you go through something is to be able to speak knowledge and truth and to help someone else,” Thomas said. “Having torn my ACL before… I now know at 32 years of age that what I went through was to be able to pour into and encourage someone else who’s going through it.”
Thomas, who introduces himself as ‘JT’ in casual conversations, is also an avid hip-hop artist, stemming from his musical background as a child. His parents had four rules for their children: go to church, get good grades, play a sport and play an instrument. Thomas started with the piano, proceeded to the flute and eventually taught himself guitar and bass when he wasn’t playing baseball, basketball or football. He took a break from music for most of high school but the interest returned in college as a football player for Utah State.
“Coming into Logan (Utah State) my freshman year, where there wasn’t a lot to do, I started kind’ve picking up the guitar and I started to write my thoughts out a lot,” he said. “Those thoughts turned into flows from a musical standpoint and I started producing tracks. On a poor student budget I purchased music equipment and started making beats and producing. I got involved in leading worship (music) at the church at that point.”
Thomas and a group of four other friends produced a CD and opened for a number of other artists. When Thomas came to Corvallis near the beginning of 2015, he joined Grace City Church, occasionally performing during services on Sunday mornings. The pastor at Grace City, Seth Trimmer, is a former Oregon State football player from 1998-2002. Trimmer’s professor in seminary, incidentally, was also the pastor at Thomas’ church in Wisconsin, making an easy connection for Thomas in Corvallis.
“It’s been cool because a lot of players attend (Grace City) and after the service they say ‘I didn’t know you did that!’” Thomas said of his rapping.
“It was pretty hype,” said freshman defensive back and Grace City member Gabe Ovgard, who is a big fan of LeCrae and other Christian hip-hop artists. “He’s good. He’s got good stage presence and everything.”
Thomas also has tattoos on both arms, which has sparked conversations with players, tattooed or not.
“I joke around with the kids,” Thomas said. “Anytime I see tattoos below the elbow, I say: ‘You better make it to the NFL.’ You can go below the elbow, but just for me personally, I like to keep them a little hidden. My wife is not a huge fan.”
Whether it’s his tattoos or musical endeavors, Thomas has found outlets to relate to his players while he works for them in a variety of ways. Both in personal interactions with players and in his work overseeing many aspects of student services, he looks for ways to promote positive influences for the football players so they can be better prepared for the future.
“One day, guess what: these kids are going to be 32 years old like I am,” Thomas said. “Any chance you have to pour into them and be an example for them, it’s to make sure they’re making decisions today at 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, that are not going to negatively affect them at 32. I think they grasp that.”
Also heavily involved in student progress is new Athletic Director Todd Stansbury, who previously spent 2003-12 with OSU’s Athletic Department and helped form the Everyday Champions program to push student athletes to be proactive leaders. The program includes the international service project Beavers without Borders, the Leadership Institute and more.
During Stansbury’s time at the University of Central Florida, the student athlete graduation rate hit 95 percent, tops among all Division-I public institutions in the nation.
“We’re educators, not necessarily in the entertainment business like most people think we are,” Stansbury said. “What JT is doing over in football… really plays into my belief that the “Everyday Champions” concept needs to be our brand.”
As evidenced by Stansbury’s ideologies, Thomas is a microcosm of the football staff and Athletic Department as a whole: intent on assisting the students in the greatest way possible. In Thomas’ eyes, the formation of Andersen’s staff came together perfectly. When Thomas was hired at Wisconsin last year, for example, he replaced Zach Nyborg as the Director of Football Operations. Now at OSU, Thomas and Nyborg convened with Andersen, Thomas remaining in the same role and Nyborg as the Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff.
“Coach (Andersen) has said he’s put together his dream team,” Thomas said. “Having a prior relationship with pretty much everyone on the staff… it’s like a homecoming. You know what makes them tick, you know how to work with them.”
“With this staff, it’s on a different level with how involved they are,” Ovgard added, who has experienced both last year’s staff and the new administration. “They want us to not only succeed but have fun doing it. They want to make sure we’re still being kids. The examples they’ve set as men… is pretty great.”
For Thomas, this sentiment from Ovgard or any other player is exactly what he wants.
“I’m definitely blessed to be here and I just want to make an impact,” he said. “If you change the trajectory of one individual’s life, I think you’re winning. So to have things in place so that we can push kids in the right direction, give them the opportunity to be successful in life and create whatever they want to create, that’s the goal.”
Coach Andersen, who was in his first year at Utah State when JT joined him, has recognized and appreciated where Thomas’ priorities lie.
“He has his family, he has his wife; that’s what is most important to JT, but I promise you the kids in this program are a very close second,” Andersen said.
As for JT’s own kids, Ezekiel and Asher: is he going to push for athletic success like his parents did and nudge his kids toward collegiate athletics?
“They better play somewhere,” he joked, “because I’m not trying to pay for their school.”