By R. Alan Richardson
Just two weeks ago the Morgan County Citizen reported on a first-of-its-kind rodeo scholarship awarded to a Morgan County High School student-athlete. This week, in another historical first, MCHS senior Ryan Thomas was awarded a fishing scholarship to the University of Montevallo (Alabama) for the upcoming 2020-21 school year as part of the Outdoor Scholar’s Program.
The news broke this past week when Thomas, who was being courted by several schools in the Southeast, made his decision to attend the Division II school that is home to approximately 2600 students. The Falcons compete in the Gulf South Conference.
His father, Gregg Thomas, is considered the founder of the Morgan County fishing team program that cranked up in 2017. He has coached the team since its inception. He said, “We found a way during the Coronavirus lockdown to schedule a visit with restrictions. They have a beautiful campus, a small student population and it’s not too far from home. It felt comfortable; like home.”
Mr. Thomas, a Conyers native and owner of a Midas franchise in that area continued, “The school atmosphere reminded of what it was like in Conyers growing up. It’s a nice, small campus. Our tour guide dates one of the guys on the fishing team. She talked about how close-knit all the team members are. She said the team does everything together including taking many of the same classes.”
Ryan was asked what he liked about the school and the area. He told us, “The state of Alabama is packed with some great lakes to fish like Gunthersville and the Coosa River chain lakes. It’s only about three and a half hours from home and the team is very competitive (in the conference and nationally). The guys on the team are real close to each other.”
Ryan’s fishing partner the past two seasons has been Cole Holloway. The two anglers have put together an impressive resume fishing the High School equivalent of the professional B.A.S.S Masters Series Trail. The high school teams compete in the Georgia B.A.S.S. Nation Trail.
According to his mother, Andi Thomas, Ryan’s resume includes being a three-time state qualifier and two-time Nationals qualifier, six top 10 finishes in 2018-19, finishing sixth at the Nationals, scholarships from numerous organizations and colleges, four top 10 finishes in 2019-20, placing second in Angler-of-the-Year standings for 2019-20.
The 18 year-old has been fishing since the age of five catching catfish off his grandparents’ dock on Lake Sinclair. He has honed those skills and chased his dream ever since. He said, “Obviously I’d like to become a professional bass fisherman on the pro tour. If that doesn’t work out. Montevallo offers opportunities in filming, videography, editing, marketing, event organization, and many other ways of pursuing a career in hunting (which he is also passionate about), fishing, and the outdoors. That’s what I want to do.”
The younger Thomas finished sixth in the 2019 Nationals at Kentucky Lake and was currently in second place in Georgia’s Angler-of-the-Year standings before the Coronavirus shut down their season. He had high hopes of winning the award up until that point.
Mrs. Thomas was asked about her son’s success. She commented “As far as the proud parent goes, I am very excited for Ryan to have this opportunity to go to Montevallo and fish on a scholarship and be a part of their Outdoor Scholars program. It’s aimed towards getting these kids the opportunity to network with people in the outdoor industry and find a career in that field. Obviously, if you asked Ryan today what he wanted to be he would say “a professional fisherman”. I am proud of him for having the courage to go farther from home, possibly without knowing anyone there and taking that chance. And if he doesn’t make the professional tour maybe he will have made the right connection to still have a career in the fishing/hunting industry. Mark (Holloway) was a great captain. His knowledge of fishing along with his knowledge of the lakes they fished on their trail was invaluable. I hope Cole chooses to fish somewhere as well and that they set an example for the kids that don’t play a sport but want to compete at something. I can’t finish without thanking all the sponsors that have been so generous with supporting our fishing team since we started out as a self funded team. I am happy to say we were never without the funds we needed to compete.”
Mr. Thomas is also super proud of Ryan’s efforts saying, “I’m just so proud of him and his accomplishments as an angler and as my son. I don’t want this to sound like I’m bragging. His resume and success stand on their own. But, as his Coach the past three seasons he helped put our program at Morgan County on the map. It’s a great and proud time for our program and as a parent for him to be the first fishing scholarship recipient in our short history. He’s done a great job. I got him started. He picked it up and ran with it. I’m happy he’s wanting to pursue something he enjoys and loves to do. He will do well at Montevallo.”
Ryan left us with these remarks. “I can’t thank my parents enough for helping me pursue my dreams. They’ve given me the opportunity to do that, and have promised me my own boat for a graduation present. I’d also like to thank all our sponsors as well as Cole Freeman and Cole Holloway for being great fishing partners and Mr. Mark Holloway for being our Captain the past two seasons. I’ve learned so much from him and wouldn’t be where I am today without his knowledge and help.”