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Greg ‘Zae’ Thomas seizes opportunity to shine for Heritage

American Heritage cornerback Greg “Zae” Thomas gets ready to face Naples on Oct. 20, 2023, in Plantation. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

PLANTATION — American Heritage (Plantation) football coach Mike Smith doesn’t mind getting pleasant surprises, and the play of cornerback Greg “Zae” Thomas this season definitely falls into that category.

Last season Thomas played sparingly as a backup in a loaded secondary that included Damari Brown (University of Miami) and Shamar McNeil (University of Missouri). The graduation of those players opened an opportunity for Thomas to step in as he entered his junior year. He’s done more than just fill a hole; he has blossomed into a prospect who is garnering attention and offers from major college programs.

“He’s been exceptional this year,” Smith said. “He stepped into a starter role this year. Last year he was in a reserve role. When you’re in a reserve role, it’s tough because you’re just waiting for that opportunity. We thought he was going to be a pretty good player, but he’s actually exceeded our expectations. He’s done an unbelievable job…His work ethic has super increased…He’s turned himself into a really good football player.”

Thomas is the only player from the Seminole Tribe on this season’s team. He entered the offseason as somewhat of an unknown because of his lack of game experience. The summer between sophomore and junior years for high school players with college aspirations is critical and Thomas used his time wisely. He got his 6-foot-2, 188-pound frame into better shape and he excelled at camps and in 7-on-7s, so much that offers from programs such as Miami and Florida State began to arrive.

Greg “Zae” Thomas, left, lines up in American Heritage’s 38-17 win against Naples on Oct. 20, 2023, in Plantation. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

“We went to a camp – 7-on-7 at Miami this summer. He made a play and Miami was like, ‘Who is that?’ He got the offer there,” Smith said.

FSU’s offer also came during the summer. Thomas attended a camp in Tallahassee and met FSU coach Mike Norvell.

“He said it was special to have a guy that they could offer that is part of the tribe, and that they see really good potential and that they want me on campus,” Thomas said. “It was a special offer being that it’s the Seminoles. Half of my family loves that team.”

Thomas has attended two games at FSU and two at Miami this season. He was among several tribal members on the field Oct. 21 for FSU’s pregame ceremony that recognized the tribal council and featured Seminole Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. planting a spear at midfield.

Other schools that have made offers include Duke, Purdue and Texas A&M.

“I have about seven offers and I’m talking to about five more. I’m open to everything,” Thomas said Oct. 25 after practice.

Smith said he expects Thomas to receive more offers as the college football season winds down.

“He’s still a little early in the process. People are starting to discover who he is, but it’s really going to pick up for him,” Smith said.

Greg “Zae” Thomas tackles a Naples player in the first quarter on Oct. 20, 2023, in Plantation. (Photo Kevin Johnson_

Regardless of the attention he’s attracted, Thomas said his main focus is helping American Heritage win a state championship, something the program has done five times, but came up short last year in a 38-31 loss to Miami Central in a South Florida powerhouse showdown for the Class 2M title. He said he’s taking the season on a week-by-week approach while he grows as a starter.

“It’s definitely way different from last year. It’s a lot more responsibility; I have to lock in more,” he said.
Through seven games, Thomas has 14 tackles and two interceptions. The first interception came in week 3 against Chaminade-Madonna from Hollywood in a battle between two of the top high school programs in the nation.

“I had a feeling it was coming because I knew the receivers and I knew the quarterback. The opportunity was coming; I just had to capitalize,” Thomas said.

Chaminade handed Heritage its only loss of the season, 28-16.

Two weeks later Thomas picked off another pass in a win against Western. Smith said the interception was a good example of how Thomas reacted to adversity. Smith said Thomas got beat earlier in the game.

“You can go in the tank and the rest of the game you’re still thinking about that or you turn around and you make a play, and he turned around and came up with a big interception. That shows the growth and maturity that he has,” Smith said.

Smith said Thomas’s mindset has improved along with the rest of his game.

“He’s done a really good job of focusing, of really focusing on being deliberate in practice, practicing with a purpose, and it’s showing up on Friday nights,” he said.

Both Smith and Thomas said there is no timetable for when Thomas will make a decision about college. He still has plenty of football left in his high school career.

“The crazy thing about him is that as good as he’s been this year, he’s still got a lot of room to grow,” Smith said. “I didn’t know he would be there this quick – he’s playing at a high level right now – but I believe he’s got an elite level that he can still get to.”

Greg “Zae” Thomas (2) and the American Heritage Patriots take the field Oct. 20, 2023, in Plantation. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is senior editor. He has worked for The Seminole Tribune since 2014. He was previously an editor, photographer and reporter for newspapers in Southwest Florida and Connecticut. Contact Kevin at