Success has followed new Mississippi Delta Community College Head Football Coach Cedric Thomas throughout his career – even amongst chaos at times.
The Bolivar County native played at Moorhead as a defensive back in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, then was on campus two more times as an assistant coach first from 2003 to 2004 and then 2007 to 2011.
MDCC Athletic Director Dan Rives was looking for his first head football coaching hire and wanted someone who “checked all the boxes” when former Head Coach Jeff Tatum left campus for the Athletic Director job in Garden City, Kansas where he had coached previously.
“Do you want somebody offensive minded? Do you want a program builder, someone real big on culture? You want all those things and hope you can get all of it,” Rives said back in December before finding Thomas.
Thomas was working for the Golden Eagles at the University of Southern Mississippi this past season. One where USM went through a few head coaches and plenty of turmoil. Thomas was the defensive backs coach. His time in Hattiesburg came after a two-year stint as the head football coach at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, his four-year alma mater. While at UAPB, Thomas brought respect and wins to the program that had fallen on hard times. In just two years, he took the two-win team to four wins and then six. While there he coached 14 All-Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) honorees with nine of them being first team.
Before his stint at Pine Bluff, Thomas was a six-year assistant at Alcorn State where he was first a defensive backs coach from 2012 to 2015 and then Defensive Coordinator in 2016 and 2017. His defense helped bring home four consecutive East titles and two straight SWAC titles in 2014 and 2015.
Thomas served as the running backs coach at the University of Tennessee-Martin in 2002, before coming to Moorhead in 2003, where he also spent the 2004 season. After a two-year gig at Itawamba Community College in 2005 and 2006, he returned to MDCC for the 2007-2011 seasons. He first came to MDCC as a player from East Side High School and signed a scholarship offered to him by former head coach Tatum.
But now his sights are firmly set on success on and off the field for his team as the Head Coach at MDCC chasing championships.
“Academic championships most definitely,” Head Coach Thomas said.
He credits his time spent at MDCC as “one of the best experiences of my life. I learned the game and was mentored by some great men who understood the junior college game.
Over 25-30 defensive backs were signed from the Delta and went on to Division One scholarships and become great stewards of their community and great men in their communities, which was awesome.”
He credits his time spent at HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) in showing him how to go through adversity and come out on top.
“I pretty much have been doing that all of my life. You’re dealing with limited resources. It’s kind of like the junior college sector. Division One and Division Two schools don’t think you’re good enough and didn’t pass that test. You’re constantly trying to prove yourself on the two-year sector. Then when you get to the NCAA Division One the Power 5 and Group 5, you want to let them know you’re good enough and might not have all the resources but when you get to the Group 5 sector you find out you are good enough and that you are prepared.”
Being at USM was “more of a Ph.D. in football – a lot more resources and more things at your fingertips. The experience was great to go against the Hugh Freezes of the world. It wasn’t overwhelming but it was good to get in and it was a blessing.”
With success in the distant past for the Trojans, Coach Thomas relishes the opportunity to go up against the successful coaches on the JUCO level in the Magnolia State.
“You have to compete at a high level if you want to win championships,” he said. “But that won’t be my mantra at all. My mantra is to make sure they succeed academically, one they graduate and two, get an opportunity to sign Division One scholarships. You can win all the championships you want but if a kid isn’t maturating through to Division One level or Division Two level as far as getting their school paid for then I’m only using these kids for my own personal gain and that’s not what I signed up for. You never let numbers or ‘Ws and Ls’ define our success. It’s about the development of these young brothers and making sure that no matter where they go in any institution and not only academic but socially – that they fit in and they speak the language and they understand football from a conceptional standpoint. That’s what I’m expected to do and I can’t wait to roll my sleeves up and go to work.”
Coach Thomas is excited about continuing to recruit the Delta area as he’s done on each of his coaching stops.
“I’m also going to spread the word to the ones about what a great league this is,” he said. “I’m going to get as many of them to stay at home where their parents can come see us play on Thursday and get back home and go to work Friday morning and don’t have to drive all across America. I have to put a good product on the field that they are willing to invest in. Based on my background, I’ll be able to do that.”
Coach Thomas, as he was a defensive back and Defensive Coordinator, understands what frustrates defenses and he intends on maxing that as much as possible. His offense will go “fast, fast, fast.”
“I want to do what our kids can handle but we’re going to go warp speed,” he said. “I know what it does to defenses on the back end. Kids can go to Alabama, Georgia, Florida or Tennessee and UT-Martin and Pine Bluff and Jackson (State) and understand football. That’s the biggest thing kids in our area lack – the language, the lingo. When you get to some of these places as a junior college kid in these meeting rooms, coaches have invested in you to get you ready to play. They start throwing out concepts that a kid from a different district may know because his coach may have played college ball or been to a bunch of clinics at Southern Miss, Ole Miss or Virginia. I want my kids to be able to understand these concepts no matter where they go.”
The “fast, fast, fast” offensive side will show a spread alignment but look for plenty of great blocking and hard running out of the formation as well for the Trojans.
“We’ll have the spread mentality but we’ll still run the ball and be physical up front. I’m looking to sign the best offensive linemen we can,” he said. “It starts up front, that’s the foundation for success. I want to make sure they understand the work ethic but also from the conceptual standpoint to be able to play.”
On the defensive side, Coach Thomas will let his players “get after it.”
“We’ve never had a problem at Delta with defensive backs so we should get a handful of those who can play man coverage and will be able to play at Clemson and Florida State and all these schools across America,” he said. “We’ll get some defensive linemen can stop the run and linebackers that can run and be physical. We’re going to be a physical football team that can process information and think. I pride myself on thinking as a lot of folks think the game is just running and hitting but that’s also true. They have to think and process information and be consumed with getting better in the game. But also seeing the small details that come with being successful. Once they see it, they can point it out in film sessions and walk throughs so they can play on a high level consistently.”
Thomas’ demand for discipline and attention to detail is a life-long lesson he plans to give each player to take into life off the field.
“That’s what you have to do to be successful in society,” he said. “You’ve got to be disciplined and you’ve got to do it consistently. When you mess up you have to be able to process the information and make changes. Those characteristics through this great game is what we have got to be able to, when it’s all over, go be great fathers, dads, brothers and great stewards in the community. If they do that, our job is done.”
The former MDCC and UAPB standout earned an Associate of Arts degree from MDCC in 1998, a bachelor's degree in recreation in 2001 from UAPB and a master's degree in administration from Alcorn State in 2015.
The former East Side High School graduate is married to Kelunda, and the couple has one daughter, Loegan. Thomas also has a son, Cedric Jr. His hobbies are few, well, just one.
“I really don’t have any hobbies, just football – watching or breaking it down. When I do get free time, I’m with family. That’s one of the important things for me and transitioning to a different level and being able to come down helps me catch up on some of that family time. The pandemic kind of helped me with that. When you’re gone making that money you miss that 8-year-old becoming a 12-year-old and you don’t even know who she is because you’ve been gone due to your journey. It’s a great opportunity for me as I’m slowing down and hitting that family aspect.”
Head Coach Cedric Thomas, the new Trojan looking to take the MDCC program and players to higher levels with attention to detail and discipline all while making them better men off the field as well.