Miami Booker T. Washington star Matthew Thomas realized a special first on Saturday night at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Sure, the standout linebacker and the Tornadoes won the Florida Class 4A state title with a 35-7 rout of Jacksonville Bolles, avenging a loss to Bolles in the same game a year ago.
But that was just icing on the cake. What meant far more to Thomas than any championship medal could ever mean was seeing his mother in the crowd for the first time of his football-playing life.
“Before the game I looked back and … the crowd and ... everything, I just started crying,” Thomas said. “It was like happy tears because I made it this far and I come from nothing and I’m playing for a state championship and we won and it means the world to me.”
His mom, Mariska Nyon, loved every minute of her first high school football game, especially since the Tornadoes and her boy Matthew came out victorious.
“This is the bomb. I loved it very much,” mom said, sporting a specially stitched black scarf on which her son’s name, number and school — BTW TORNADOES, MATTHEW THOMAS, SIX — was stitched in orange letters.
“It was exciting.”
Nyon, who is a native of the Republic of Suriname, a small South American Country bordered on its north side by the Atlantic Ocean, has lived in Miami for 23 years.
She never wanted her son to play football, but it was his passion and she gave in to his desires to play when Matthew was still young. She still, however, could never work up the strength it would take her to go watch her boy play such a violent game.
Matthew, however, wasn't exactly going to just take no for an answer to what he believed to be his calling.
“My mom doesn’t even want me playing football,” Thomas said last summer during a 7-on-7 tournament at New Smyrna Beach. “She thinks I’m going to get hurt. She says I should just go to school or something, but I told her, ‘I’m going to play football.’”
He said he even signed up for a little league football team without his mom's consent when he was 10 years old. "I went and signed up by myself."
With time, however, his mother finally began to give into his passion over her fears of his being injured.
“A mom's heart, you know ... I didn’t want to see him killing himself out there,” said Nyon, who had watched Matthew play on TV, including last year’s losing state matchup with Bolles. “He told me how much it meant to him. He likes the game. He likes to play.
"I accepted it and I support him and now he’s succesful and I’m happy that he won. I had to come because this is his last high school game.”
Billy Thomas, Matthew’s father, was happy his mother relented back when the boy was just starting to show not only a passion for the game, but also an athletic prowess that took over the football field.
“She thought maybe he’d get hurt,” said Billy Thomas of his ex-wife of seven years. “I said nah, you gotta let him go. It’s in his heart … at a young age it was for the game.
“The different positions that he played he excelled in and I was just glad to see him play. He was an exciting player and he motivated the other players around him.”
He’s grown into a special player. The kind of player who gets personal phone calls from guys like Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Those are just two of the head coaches at schools vying for his services at the next level.
“I just tried to stay level headed. I’d always think about it, dreamed about it .. it’s a dream come true,” Matthew said of his mother being in the stands for the first time. “I think she’s going to be around [at games] a lot now.”
After seeing how devastated her son was last year following the loss to Bolles, a game in which Bolles scored 21 fourth-quarter points to stun the Tornadoes 33-25, she hope he wouldn't have to go through that again.
“I saw him last year on TV. They lost. He cried,” Nyon said. “It hurt him and he promised that he would win this time.”
And he did. Thomas had nine tackles Saturday night, and it may have been a different Bolles team this time around, but that will never matter to anyone among the Booker T. faithful.
With this mission accomplished, Thomas can turn his focus to the future. Florida state, Alabama and Miami are the frontrunners in the recruiting battle for the nation’s No. 13-ranked player and No. 3-ranked outside linebacker, according to 247sports.com. Thomas is also the No. 3-ranked player in the Sentinel’s 2013 Florida Top 100, and the top-rated linebacker in the state.
Last season, Thomas had 113 tackles and 13 sacks. This year he turned in just 53 tackles and seven sacks during the regular season, his numbers down mostly due to the 41.7 points per game winning margin the Tornadoes had in their nine victories. The starters didn't play much in games that were mostly lop-sided blowouts, like a 68-13 rout of Orlando Jones or the 53-0 thumping they put on Miami Edison.
While his parents would love to see him stay close to home, they aren’t holding him back.
“It doesn’t matter. Wherever he feels at home. I will support that,” said mom. “I’ll miss him but I’ll talk to him on the phone. It’s his decision. He will tell the whole world February the fourth.”
National Signing Day is when Thomas will unveil his choice.
Dad, who played tight end and Miami American Senior High, says he’s also fine with whatever his son decides, he just wants him to make the choice for the right reasons.
“Actually it really doesn’t matter. It’s his education and he’s playing the game and wherever he goes, I’m just going to support him,” said Billy Thomas. “It’s solely on him, from his heart. I told him, ‘just go with your heart … because at the end of the day, it’s your decision that counts. … so you can’t say someone told me to do this or do that. Make your own decision and make it solid.’ ”
And as for being a championship dad?
“It’s setting in,” said Billy. “It’s a wonderful thing for him to be on the field and do this and to not just talk about it … but be about it.”
Sentinel summer intern Megan Walsh contributed to this report.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.