BY DARREN REESE
SUN SPORTS EDITOR
Growing up, Drew Thomas' cousin, Elizabeth Bernard, ran track for Greeneville Middle School.
One day she came to him and suggested that he join the team.
Thomas just laughed at first.
"I said, 'There is no way. I don't want to run,'" he remembered.
But Thomas' cousin mentioned that he could participate in field events, as well.
Thomas decided to give it a try, and so began his love affair with a sport that would carry him all the way to the University of Tennessee.
The former Greeneville High School standout recently wrapped up his athletic and educational career in Knoxville by reaching a goal five years in the making - he qualified for the NCAA Men's Outdoor East Regionals.
Thomas finished 27th in the hammer throw at the regional meet after placing sixth at the SEC Championships.
"That was something I've tried to do every year since I was at Tennessee," said Thomas, who graduated from GHS in 2008 after earning All-State honors in both the shot put and discus.
"I was always just on the outside of making it. It was special to end my career that way."
Thomas threw a personal-best distance of 198 feet at the SEC meet this spring.
He also threw for Tennessee during the winter indoor track and field season.
NCAA throwers compete with the hammer in the outdoor season and weight during indoor.
Thomas threw the weight a personal best of 60 feet this past winter. It was three feet further than the distance that got him sixth place at the SEC Championships the year before, but this year the 2012 distance didn't even place.
"That just goes to show you how strong the competition in the SEC has gotten over the past year," Thomas noted.
He said he preferred throwing the hammer as opposed to the weight, because it put less stress on the body and it was "just a whole lot more fun."
He didn't throw a hammer until he went to Tennessee, a delay which he says was good because he didn't come in with a lot of bad habits.
Thomas explained that the difference among the top throwers in the country comes down to technique a lot more than strength.
"Technique is probably 80 percent of what makes a successful thrower," Thomas said.
"The coaches were always taking video of us, during practice, during competition. We would come back from a meet and spend the whole day watching it, analyzing it, and then going out and trying to match that image you had in your head."
Thomas was a preferred walk-on at UT his first three seasons, but was awarded a scholarship for his senior year.
"I was pretty excited about that," he said. "I worked hard for it."
He finished seventh in Tennessee's all-time hammer throw record book and 12th in the weight. The list is refered to as the "Dandy Dozen".
Thomas graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics back in the spring and has since been working at Greeneville Federal Bank. He hopes to soon begin a career as a financial advisor or something in a related field.
As for his throwing career, he says he will continue to train, though not as hard as he did for SEC competition.
"I will continue to throw as a hobby," he concluded. "I can participate in events like the Sea Ray Relays or other open track meets."
"It just might not be as intense."
Thomas is the son of Mark and Chris Thomas.