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Gregory Thomas ready to rise for American Heritage

Gregory Xavier Thomas, center, is in his sophomore season on the powerful American Heritage football team. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Nov. 30, 2022, issue of The Seminole Tribune.

PLANTATION — When it comes to football, Gregory Xavier Thomas has lofty goals.

Similar to many of his teammates at American Heritage School in Plantation, Thomas wants to play big time college football (Florida State is one of his favorite teams) and make it to the NFL.

Getting there, of course, is the hard part, but being a player at one of the nation’s top high school football programs is an advantageous starting point.

Thomas, whose friends call him Xavier or “Zae,” is one of two members of the Seminole Tribe on the Patriots, who went 9-1 in the regular season. Playoff victories against Inlet Grove, Boynton Beach and Cardinal Gibbons secured a spot for the Patriots in the FHSAA Class 2M state semifinals. Heritage is slated to host Bolles Academy of Jacksonville on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. The winner will advance to the state championship game Dec. 9 against Miami Central or Lakewood. Fort Lauderdale’s DRV PNK Stadium is the host site for four state championship games, including 2M.

After playing wide receiver for Heritage’s junior varsity team last season (he also spent some time on varsity), Thomas switched to cornerback in the spring and earned a spot on a senior-laden varsity roster.

“He’s growing, he’s young, he’s only a sophomore. He’s really developing. We expect some big things out of him moving forward,” said Heritage coach Mike Smith, who is in his first season at the helm and has been a part of the program for more than 10 years.

Learning and waiting for opportunities as a young player – which Thomas has done a lot of this season – comes with the territory on a program that has won five state championships in the past nine years and whose alumni includes an array of college standouts and NFL players such as Sony Michel, Patrick Surtain II and Khalil Herbert.

Heritage features a highly talented secondary, including at cornerback, where Thomas is in a backup role. He also plays on special teams. Although his playing time is sparse, he has played in every game.

“It’s just tough right now. We’ve got two super elite guys [at cornerback]; one guy is trying to decide between Miami and Alabama, the other guy is a Missouri commit. The deal here is you’ve kind of got to wait your turn and go through the process, but [Thomas] is doing a really good job.”

At 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds, Thomas already sports an ideal size for cornerback. His height has increased in the past year. He has the athleticism and versatility to play other positions if needed. Smith said college coaches noticed Thomas during the spring.

“He’s got the measurements. He’s got size. He can run. He’s developing. He’s just waiting for his opportunity,” Smith said.

Not only is Thomas playing with major college talent on his side of the ball, but he’s also facing big time recruits on the other side in practices, notably Brandon Inniss, an Ohio State commit who is ranked by ESPN as the class of 2023’s fourth best wide receiver in the country.

“Working with him gets me better. Going up against Brandon, nobody in the game is going to be like Brandon,” Thomas said.

Gregory Xavier Thomas, right, runs a special teams drill during an American Heritage practice in November 2022. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

Heritage has 27 seniors, so there will be holes to fill next season, and Thomas is ready to step in. He said he likes that the tradition and culture of the program emphasizes hard work.

“It’s a standard. Every practice we come out and we practice hard. Every game we play hard,” he said.

Thomas has been a part of Heritage even before he was born. His father, also named Gregory, played football for Heritage.

“He told me they were good and they made the playoffs, like second round every year, but they definitely weren’t like where we are now,” Thomas said.

Thomas has been playing football since age six. He’s been a student at Heritage since he was about eight or nine. He attended games when the Patriots won state championships with Seminole brothers Andre and Bleyvns Jumper on the team.

Smith said there will be high expectations for Thomas come next spring.

“From being a back up to being thrust into a role that we expect you to play,” he said. “He’s on schedule and he’s doing a great job.”

Avery Bowers

Avery Bowers is the other Seminole on the Heritage squad. He’s a 5-foot-11, 280-pound backup senior defensive lineman who joined the team in the spring.

“For a kid who has not played a lot, Avery has done a pretty good job,” coach Mike Smith said. “He practices hard. He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do. He gets some playing time late in games.”

Bowers was among the 27 seniors honored at the team’s senior night game toward the end of the regular season.

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