Football Writers Association of America Oct. 20, 2021
For Immediate Release
Contact: Steve Richardson
214-870-6516
Senior linebacker has overcome a stroke and three ACL surgeries
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MINNESOTA STATE'S THOMAS NOMINATED FOR
CAPITAL ONE ORANGE BOWL COURAGE AWARD

DALLAS (FWAA) Minnesota State's Eli Thomas is this week's nominee for the 2021 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award. Thomas, a senior linebacker, has overcome both a stroke and three ACL surgeries to become a huge part of the Mavericks' 5-2 season.

Eli Thomas (Minnesota State Athletics)

"I just take things day by day, like literally," Thomas told the Elmira (N.Y.) Star-Gazette in September. "What happened yesterday happened yesterday. I don't really look too far into the future. And also I know it's a fact that somebody else has it way worse than me. With the ACLs and the stroke, somebody is living worse.

"I don't have it that bad. I don't have it bad at all. I couldn't control any of it anyway, so why would I get mad or upset about it? Control what you can control and just live day by day. That's what I live on."

Thomas, who started his career at Lackawanna (Pa.) College and transferred to UConn in 2017, suffered a stroke in 2018 while with the Huskies. He spent extended time in the hospital and worked to regain his speech. He was not medically cleared to play at UConn in 2019 a season in which he was still named a captain and he transferred to Minnesota State, a strong Division II program in Mankato, ahead of the 2020 season, which ended up getting canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

An Elmira, N.Y. native, Thomas had suffered three ACL injuries between his senior year of high school and his time at Lackawanna, a junior college powerhouse. The 25-year-old is now in what would technically be his seventh year of college, and he and his girlfriend have two children.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Thomas has been a force on the field for the Mavericks, as he is tied for the team lead in tackles (26) and has 2.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one pass breakup. The breakup came in this past Saturday's 58-0 win over Upper Iowa, a game in which Thomas tallied a season-high seven tackles, including one tackle for loss.

The Courage Award was first presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) in 2002. A select group of writers from the FWAA vote on the winner each year. The requirements for nomination include displaying courage on or off the field, including overcoming an injury or physical handicap, preventing a disaster or living through hardship. The winner of the award will be included in festivities during Capital One Orange Bowl week and receive his trophy at an on-field presentation.

Previous winners of the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award are Arkansas State analyst Alex Charlton (2020), Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson (2019), SUNY Cortland linebacker Kyle Richard (2018), Wisconsin safety D'Cota Dixon (2017), Pitt running back James Conner (2016), Miami offensive lineman Hunter Knighton (2015), Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson (2014), San Jose State defensive lineman Anthony Larceval (2013), Clemson wide receiver Daniel Rodriguez (2012), Michigan State offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr. (2011), Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (2010), the University of Connecticut football team (2009), Tulsa's Wilson Holloway (2008), Navy's Zerbin Singleton (2007), Clemson's Ray Ray McElrathbey (2006), the Tulane football team (2005), Memphis' Haracio Colen (2004), San Jose State's Neil Parry (2003) and Toledo's William Bratton (2002).

About the Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is a 380-member, primarily-volunteer non-profit sports organization that promotes and serves the South Florida community. With its primary mission since being created in 1935 to bring tourism to South Florida through an annual football game and events, it has also maintained a legacy of charitable contributions and community outreach. Orange Bowl community outreach efforts are comprised of four pillars through its Orange Bowl Cares program: Youth Sports, Education, Community Engagement and Legacy Programs. Orange Bowl features a year-round schedule of events culminating with the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Dec. 31, 2021. For more information on the 2021 Orange Bowl events, including promotional inquiries and volunteer opportunities through the Ambassador Program presented by Panera Bread, log on to orangebowl.org or follow @OrangeBowl on social media.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or tiger@fwaa.com.

2021 Capital One Orange Bowl Courage Award Nominees
Sept. 22: McKenzie Milton, Florida State
Sept. 29: Yohance Burnett, Tulsa
Oct. 6: J.J. Weaver, Kentucky
Oct. 13: Elijah Hicks, Cal
Oct. 20: Eli Thomas, Minnesota State
Oct. 27: Taijh Alston, West Virginia
Nov. 3: Utah Utes
Nov. 10: Vederian Lowe, Illinois
Nov. 17: Tre Tipton, Pitt
Nov. 24: Tanner Morgan, Minnesota

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Capital One Orange Bowl Courage Award
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