Adalius Thomas is one of the best players to ever suit up for Southern Miss.
In his four years, he led the Golden Eagles to three Conference USA Championships (1996, 1997, and 1999). He also won C-USA Defensive Player of the Year both his junior and senior seasons. He ended his college career the best way he could have by winning the Liberty Bowl MVP in 1999.
In this edition of “Where Are They Now?”, SouthernMiss.com got a chance to catch up with Adalius Thomas, who enjoyed a 10-year NFL career as a member of the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. He was a two-time All-Pro and won a Super Bowl in his rookie season with the Ravens.
Adalius Thomas (AT): Life after football has been well, definitely an adjustment when you leave the game earlier than you expect, just really trying to get a grasp on what you're trying to do. The good side is you get to take your kids to school, spend more time with your family, and also you really realize who your real friends are. Your phone stops ringing fairly fast, it's kind of amazing.
I really have been trying to find something I really enjoy doing, as well as relaxing with the family. I own a couple restaurants, so that consumes a lot more time within itself.
SM: What have you brought into your professional life after football that you may have taken away from your time in the classroom at Southern Miss.?
AT: Well, I graduated in Sports Administration and I'm going back for Business Administration. So applying the business side of it to the restaurants on a daily basis from the investments and learning how to perform the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. It's a learning curve, I'm now into my third restaurant. Understanding your weakness and hiring people that are smarter than you is probably the most important thing you can do. Doing that has helped tremendously and helped the business grow.
SM: How closely have you followed the Southern Miss football program since you left to the NFL?
AT: I try to follow as much as I can; I was in Baltimore and New England over the 10 years that I played. Southern Miss is a long ways (away). I try to follow as much as I can, find a couple games here and there.
Since I've been out I've tried to follow a little more, I'm in Atlanta, a little bit closer, being able to go to a few more games. I do a things with my foundation, the Adalius Thomas Fit Kids, where we go there and we set up before games and we give kids a chance to exercise for 60 minutes, two hours before the game to promote healthy lifestyles and to combat childhood obesity. Mississippi was one of the most unhealthy, obese states there was, being No. 50 when I started. We have made some steps to really combat that as a state, it will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next couple years. We'll be building an obstacle course, giving healthy snacks by Aramark who partnered with me and Coca-Cola with sugar free drinks, as well as Powerade, and water to help with the cause; I've been happy with it.
SM: Southern Miss was the only program to offer you a football scholarship out of high school. How much more does that opportunity mean to you looking back at it knowing they were the only school that thought you were good enough to get a full time scholarship?
AT: It just goes to show, it only takes one. You don't need every college coming after you to get an opportunity. I had one, they offered, the rest is history. It really did pay off. I had a great time down at Southern Miss. Hattiesburg has grown so much since I left. After Katrina hit New Orleans I think a lot of people came up from New Orleans and came to Hattiesburg. The city has grown so much, the campus is different, Van Hall, which is where I stayed, is now torn down. It's a big change, but at the same time, change is good. I've tried to keep up with it. Last year was probably the hardest year being a winless year of football. Being a competitor you want to do everything you can to see those guys do well because it's a great group of guys down there and I think that the new coach will do well.
SM: Southern Miss had 18 straight winning seasons and last year hit a road bump with the 0-12 campaign, but now they bring in head coach Todd Monken. What do you think of the coaching hire and how does it change the direction of the program in your opinion?
AT: Well I've heard great things about him. I don't know a lot about coach Monken, I'm not a guy that will Google someone to find out about someone. I'd rather meet him face-to-face. I have talked to him on the phone. Seems like a great guy and I've heard nothing but good things about him. We'll see how it pans out this year, but I think he will do well. I think they have some athletic guys from the outside, so it will be interesting to see how they fare.
SM: You talk about that mental toughness, what would be your advice to the players that went through the 0-12 season, and it is a minor bump in the road when you talk about how successful Southern Miss has been, but what would be you advice to those players to forget last season and to start a new chapter this year?
AT: I think the biggest mistake would be to forget last season. I think they need to remember last season. I think you remember last season, you remember what that felt like, you remember what that felt like when you wanted to quit, you remember what that felt like when you wanted to take a shortcut. You remember what it felt like to just want to get one win for that year's senior class.
If you were a junior, you're now the senior class, don't leave a stone unturned. I'm not going to take a shortcut because last year I was willing to do anything for a win, because it was towards the end of the year. This year I'm going to start the same way but I'm going to start earlier, from game one, not wanting to have that feeling later on down the road. I want to get this monkey off my back the first game and when I get it off my back I'm going to use it as momentum to carry over to the next game.
I think they have to remember last year and I think they should be reminded of last year. Of what it is that we did, how many games we came close to winning with one mistake here, one mistake there, talk about winning by inches, winning by one play, missed tackles, dropped balls. All of those things I need to remember so that it will make me work harder, make me concentrate more, to be a better leader for my team at the beginning of the year all the way throughout. I think they have to remember that in order to be successful this year.
SM: How is it being in the NFL as a Southern Miss alum?
AT: You definitely got jokes all the time from the guys at the big schools, but my reply was always, ‘Its funny that you went to a big school, I went to a small school, but were in the same place now.' I would end that conversation very fast. I have no problem representing the black and gold, that's what I bleed, so I will till the day I die and V5 for Van Hall, where I stayed and there's no shame no matter where I go and it still stands Anywhere, Anyone, Anytime.
That's what we were about; we were about the Black Attack we were about having a strong defense to really knock your mouth off, anytime you wanted to play and where you wanted to play and how often you wanted to play. That's what we were known for, we were known for being the Black Attack. A little school from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, that ran the ball, were tough on defense and you're not going to beat us by doing just anything. You gotta come in and bring your lunch pale and your hard hat and you gotta bring it.
So that's the mentality that we took, we carried that chip on our shoulder because the Alabama's, Auburn's, Georgia's didn't want you because they didn't have enough scholarships or because they didn't take the time to come visit you even though you were right down the street. You take all those things and use them for motivation and go from there.
SM: You were an All American, you had a lot of success in Conference USA during your playing time, was there one experience that you pick out as the best or most important experience you had at Southern Miss?
AT: Well you know there are several from graduating from college, winning the Liberty Bowl twice, being Defensive MVP in the Liberty Bowl, being Defensive MVP of the league two times, those things right there were great memories, probably the most memorable times I had at Southern Miss is when we played Pittsburgh and then Colorado State, those two games we played in Memphis, the feeling and the joy and excitement of being able to leave out on a winning note, it was a great feeling.
To leave there and go on and win the Liberty Bowl, which at that time you win your conference you go to the Liberty Bowl, now there are so many more bowls you can go to now, it's a little different. I enjoyed it, I took it all in, I didn't take it for granted.
I really enjoyed the festivities, enjoyed that my family came and had a good time after the game, it was just a joyous time to end the career at Southern Miss, going to the Liberty Bowl, going out on top. That's definitely one of the happiest stories that I have there.