Will Thomas Collins from Breathitt to Lexington

Will Thomas Collins Senior day UK - Photo by Brendon Miller
Will Thomas Collins Senior day UK – Photo by Brendon Miller

Written by Betty Collins about Will Thomas Collins

He has spent his whole life loving Kentucky Football.  From the youngest age he would watch and cheer for the Cats; in his living room, in his aunt and uncle’s den, in restaurants, and sometimes from the stands at Commonwealth Stadium.  Will Thomas Collins, AKA Will Tom or Taco Meat has always loved Kentucky Football.

It’s only natural Will Thomas would love football.  He’s grown up in a football family. His dad, Jon, a die-hard Wildcat fan, has coached high school football for years, having had the opportunity to coach in three state championships as well as two Kentucky All-Star teams.  He also had the privilege of coaching not just Will Thomas but his other three sons as well.  Will Thomas’s mom, Betty is also a huge fan of the sport.  She started ringing her cow bell in 1985 for the Breathitt County Bobcats, the team where Jon began his coaching career and has been ringing it ever since.

Being the oldest of four boys meant there was always opportunity for backyard football.  It didn’t matter if they were at home, the beach, or at a friend’s, The Collins Boys could always throw down and play football.  Sometimes they would have to use a plastic bottle filled with rocks for a football, but when you love the game as much as they did, you make do with what you have. With football being one of their favorite past times, it was tough to keep grass growing in the Collins front yard and there weren’t many homes that had a goal post made out of scrape wood, but the Collins House did.

Will Thomas was born in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky in 1992, during the time his dad coached at Ft. Thomas Highlands.  He later lived in western Kentucky in the quaint little town of Cadiz, while his dad coached at Trigg County High School. At two years old, Will Thomas was a regular at the Trigg County Wildcats football practices.  He even had the number of his favorite player on the side of his football helmet.  When his dad would get home in the evenings he would pass the football with him.  He loved football.   While living in Cadiz Will Thomas began kindergarten at Collins Christian Academy for Boys as a homeschooler.  It was then he began practicing his “autograph.” He autographed everything and even some of the things he shouldn’t.  He would say, “When I play college football I’m gonna give everybody an autograph that wants one. I’m gonna give away my gloves and throw my wrists bands.”

Later his family made the move to Cynthiana to live on the family farm.  Will Thomas began playing football for the first time on a team “on the hilltop” in the Harrison County Pee Wee Football League.  Being a homeschooler the coaches didn’t know him. He spent most of practice watching the others, but finally his day came and he never looked back.   Will Thomas said his favorite thing about playing Pee Wee football was he could finally hit someone and not get in trouble for it!

The Collins Family loved homeschooling and the unique opportunities if offered.  Unfortunately being homeschooled meant Will Thomas couldn’t participate in school sports. So to get to do what he loved he repeated the 6th grade as a homeschooler so he could play one more year of Pee Wee football.  Again it looked like there would be no opportunity for Will Thomas as a 7th grader until his dad visited Lexington Christian Academy.  He talked to head football coach Paul Rains, and found they allowed homeschoolers to participate in the middle school’s activities and sports programs. It meant driving 90 minutes one way to practice every day, but that’s what moms do when they have children whom are passionate about something.

He later began high school at Lexington Christian Academy where he earned a starting position as a freshman. The season ended one game short of the state championship falling to Hazard High School 28-21.  During his freshman season he was recognized for his effort and talent on the field by being awarded the Elite Eagle Award, the highest honor achieved by a football player. The following season the LCA Eagles finished the season 14-1 winning the 2009 Class 1A State Football Championship by defeating Mayfield 55-19. Will Thomas lead the team in tackles for the season, including seventeen tackles in a single game.

However, in the summer of 2010 Will Thomas’s dad took a job in Eastern Kentucky which took Will Thomas from LCA to Breathitt High School.  Although he didn’t want to leave his school, his teammates, and the farm where he had grown up, he made the transition with an open mind and heart.  He missed his teammates at LCA, but grew to love being a Breathitt Bobcat under Coach Mike Holcomb.

During his senior year of high school colleges showed interest in Will Thomas.  He got several calls a week, but the one school he had always dreamed of suiting up for, the University of Kentucky, never called.  After college visits and offers Will Thomas made the decision to play for the University of Pikeville where he started on special teams.  Even though Will Thomas enjoyed his teammates and coaches Pikeville ended up not being the right fit for him.  He returned home, attended the community college, and began the recruiting process again.  This time Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Murray State, and Southern Illinois University were all possibilities, but again the one school Will Thomas was most interested in, UK, still showed no interest.

Will Thomas made the decision that summer to attend Murray State University after being offered a preferred walk-on spot. Even though his desire was to continue to do what he loved and play football at the next level, the passion and enthusiasm again was not there.   Knowing Will Thomas’s love, desire, and dream for the University of Kentucky a close friend of the family encouraged Will Thomas to contact the University of Kentucky one last time.  “What would it hurt,” she said.  Timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  After several weeks of phone calls and conversations “the call” came.  He stood in the middle of Butter Point Road, a little one-lane dead end road in Breathitt County, talking to Coach John Schlarman, University of Kentucky Football.  His family waited and watched, anxiously praying for the outcome.  After about twenty minutes Will Thomas said “goodbye,” and with both a grin and a sparkle in his eyes turned to his mom , dad, and brothers and said “I’m gonna play for the University of Kentucky!”  He spent the next hours calling family and friends saying, “I’m gonna play football for the Cats!”

The entire family, brothers included, made the trip to UK to be with Will Thomas to begin the process of becoming a Kentucky Wildcat.  Everyone was so excited for him. God had given Will Thomas Collins the desire of his heart.  Each phone call, each Facebook post, each picture was always so exciting.  One of his friends even created a Taco Meat Fan Page on Facebook.  He faced every day with anticipation and enthusiasm.  He was a Wildcat!  Going to his football locker was like Christmas morning.  One day he would find a t-shirt, another day a hat, maybe a pair of shoes or a coat, but whatever he found it was always personalized with #48 and Kentucky football.  Will Thomas Collins, wore it proud!

Will Thomas chose to live with his grandfather most of the time he was at UK.  And even though he enjoyed their time together it meant riding across Lexington every day, rain or shine, on his moped for classes and practice.  It was especially tough in the dead of winter, sometimes in the snow, when he had to get up at 4:45 A.M. to be at weightlifting by 6:00.  He didn’t mind.  He was getting to play for the University of Kentucky and that was all that mattered.

Will Thomas was recruited to play fullback, but when he got to UK they used him on scout team defense as a linebacker the first year.  Again, he didn’t mind, he just wanted to play football and do whatever the Cats needed him to do so they could have a winning program.  His dad always encouraged him to work hard every play, every rep, every time.  His hard work, passion for the game, and love for Wildcat Football paid off.  His mom can still remember the day she got a call from Will Thomas in the spring of 2015.  He said “Mom, I’m gonna be the starting fullback next year!”  She said, “Are you sure?”  Will Thomas replied, “Mom…Coach Marrow said ‘Call your friends, call your family.  Tell your little brothers they’re gonna watch you play on Saturdays!’”

Each new opportunity was so exciting for Will Thomas and his family.  As he lived his dream they were living it right along with him. After the first spring game his family waited and waited in the crowd for him after the game.  He came out of the locker room but he never made it to them.  His mom waded through the fans and found Will Thomas surrounded by a group of children signing autographs, that same autograph he had practiced for so many years. He had never forgotten what it was like to hope for an autograph or a wristband of a player.  Sometimes it’s an autograph, sometimes it’s a handshake, maybe even a picture.  Whatever the request he always takes time making sure every person knows how much he or she means to him.

For Will Thomas the last four years has been a-once-in-a-lifetime experience. Everything from the practices, cheering from the sidelines, blocking for Boom, Benny Snell, Jr., and the others, being awarded a scholarship, staying in the finest hotels, all-you-can-eat filet mignon the night before a game, the plane flights, visiting kids at UK Children’s Hospital, and meeting professional football players are just a few of the highlights of being a Kentucky Wildcat.  But life is about people and throughout his time at the University of Kentucky what has meant the most to Will Thomas are his coaches and teammates.  They mean everything to him. Those friendships and memories will last a lifetime.

For years Will Thomas Collins cheered for the Cats.  He climbed the wall when UK beat Georgia.  He made it down on the field as the goal post fell after the Cats beat #1 LSU.  But now Will Thomas Collins is not just watching the Catwalk he’s shaking hands and high fiving down the Catwalk.  He’s not just watching the players run out of the tunnel, he’s right there with ‘em. Will Thomas is not just at home watching the Cats beat Louisville, he’s celebrating in the locker room with his teammates and taking pictures while he holds the Governor’s Cup before it’s taken back to Lexington.  And he won’t just be watching the bowl game in Jacksonville, he’s counting on being in the bowl game.  These past four years of being on the field in Commonwealth Stadium and hearing the cheers of the Big Blue Nation for Will Thomas Collins and His Kentucky Wildcats has been nothing short of magical, a dream come true. Just wish this ride didn’t have to end.  Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat!  GO CATS, GO WILL THOMAS!