GROVETON, TX (KTRE) - Residents all over East Texas are remembering a Friday night legend.
Former Groveton Indian runningback Rodney Thomas died Saturday night at his mother's home in Groveton. Thomas was 41.
Services for Thomas will be held in the Groveton ISD high school gymnasium Friday at 11 a.m. There will be a visitation prior to the funeral starting at 9:30 a.m.
Groveton residents say Thomas will always be one of them.
"Rodney Thomas was one of the good guys," Luther Cockrell said. "He may have been one of the greatest players I have ever seen."
East Texas News anchor Taylor Hemness grew up in Groveton and said the death of Thomas has hit close to his heart.
"You don't think about people that are 41 years-old dying," Hemness said. "He had friends from Groveton to College Station to all over the NFL. He had a lot of friends but anytime you were around him, he made you feel like you were his best friend. It didn't matter if you were a nine or 10 year-old boy."
Thomas' family said the last few days have been tough but are grateful for the support the community has shown.
"We're overwhelmed for the love that people had for him," said brother Darrell Williams."There will be so many stories about Rodney Thomas and how he touched lives , but football was just a small minute part of who Rodney was. Rodney was an amazing angel."
Thomas lead the Groveton Indians to back-to-back 2A state championships in 1989 and 1990.
Dave Campbell's Texas football website has Rodney Thomas listed 5th all-time on the career rushing yards list. According to the site, Thomas rushed for 8,441 yards. Thomas is also 5th all-time for single season rushing yards with 3,701 in the 1990 season. In 1990, Thomas had over 100 yards in every game.
According to the Associated Press, in 1995, the Houston Oilers selected Thomas in the third round of the NFL draft, and he ran for 947 yards and five touchdowns during his rookie season. However, the Oilers finished 7-9 that year, and in the following spring, Houston picked Heisman Trophy-winning running back Eddie George in the first round the following spring, according to the Associated Press.
"Thomas remained with the team as a backup after it moved to Tennessee and became the Titans, but eclipsed 200 rushing yards in a season only once more, when he ran for 310 yards during the Titans' 1997 campaign," the Associated Press story stated.
Thomas stayed with the team as a backup after it moved to Tennessee and became the Titans. After he played in Super Bowl XXIV, when the Titans lost to the Rams, he played his seventh and final season with the Atlanta Falcons in 2001.
Cartwright told the Associated Press that Thomas had been living in Spring with his wife and 4-year-old child and that he often returned to his hometown to visit his mother and other family members. He said Thomas was well-liked in the community because he was "down to earth and humble."
"He led the Aggies in rushing for four straight seasons, and in 1994, his teammates gave him the Aggie Heart Award, an award for a Texas A&M senior football player who demonstrates effort, determination, leadership and courage, The Associated Press said.
"What a great young guy he was," former Texas A&M football coach R.C. Slocum told The Associated Press. "He made the greatest impact on his teammates of all the guys I've ever coached."