Junior defensive tackle Quentin Thomas finally gets a shot to start for LSU

Quentin Thomas’ stepdad lay on a hospital operating table lifeless.

The car accident had caused severe brain damage — bad enough that even doctors had their doubts about his survival.

“You might want to call a priest,” one doctor told Thomas’ mother, Charlotte.

Thomas, then 11 years old, watched his mother burst into tears.

“Ever since then,” Thomas said earlier this week, “I said I’m going to earn my scholarship. Football is my ticket.”

Thomas’ teenage life was a long, tough journey. His first three years at LSU were too, just in a different way.

He’s reached the destination point, though.

The 6-foot-4, 303-pound Thomas, a redshirt junior, is expected to be LSU’s starting defensive tackle this season. He’s been practicing with the starting group since spring, is listed No. 1 on the preseason depth chart, and coach Les Miles said he’s had a “great” summer.

Finally, after three years of toiling as a reserve, his time is here.

“He’s primed to have a big season. I know what he can do,” said Vadal Alexander, LSU’s left guard who often clashes with Thomas during practice.

There’s still a long ways to go, of course. LSU is just two days into a two-week-long fall camp, and defensive tackle is raging with competition.

Last year’s starters, Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson, are gone. They’ve been replaced with a pair of players, sophomore Christian LaCouture and Thomas, who have limited experience.

Thomas admits that his starting job is far from safe — not with Frank Herron, Maquedius Bain and Greg Gilmore itching for playing time.

“I love that. I love competition,” said Thomas, a Breaux Bridge native. “They’re ahead of me when I got here. I feel like they came in knowing they’re in a great position to play.”

But what’s a little competition to this guy?

Thomas has cleared his share of life’s hurdles before arriving in Baton Rouge.

The car accident involving his stepfather and his mother changed his life — oddly enough, for the better.

His stepdad, Carol Journet, slipped into a six-month coma after the accident. When he awoke, Carol didn’t recognize anyone — not even Charlotte, whom he had dated since they were in high school.

Thomas had to grow up quick. He had to care for his younger brother, 9-year-old Darrian, while Charlotte tended to her husband and Darrian’s birth father.

Quentin Thomas learned how to cook — smothered pork chops, specifically — and clean.

“It’s amazing,” Thomas said, “how a terrible situation ended up being something that pushed me.”

It pushed him to attend school, rain or shine, he said (he had to walk to the bus stop). It pushed him to study and make qualifying grades.

A three-star guy out of Breaux Bridge High, Thomas wasn’t nearly as highly recruited as some of those reserves currently nipping at his heels.

He’s what some might call a “program player,” a kid who slowly works into the lineup but stays for the long haul. They are foundation players, guys needed in maintaining a program.

If he completes his LSU career, Thomas would be a five-year player, a rarity at a school that has lost 16 players early to the draft over the past two seasons.

Some players would have transferred. Others might have been lost in the shuffle.

How did he make it through?

“Just by the coaches talking to me, just letting me know that I’m improving, that I’m doing great,” he said. “Nobody ever gave up on me. I also had family that backed me up.”

His mother, specifically. Thomas refers to her as “Momma” and nothing else.

Charlotte Journet was part of a life-changing event a decade ago that transformed her son into the man he is today.

“Football was pretty much my escape from the situation at home,” Thomas said. “You don’t want to see somebody you’ve been around not be the same. Can’t take care of themselves. You’ve got to help. That was her job. My job was to go to school. At one point, I said if it was raining and thundering, I’m out at the bus stop waiting.”

Carol awaking from the coma was the worst. Doctors performed emergency surgery after the accident, and he then slipped into the state.

Charlotte would bring her two sons to the hospital to pay a visit to the unconscious man.

“Put balloons (in the room) and stuff like that,” Thomas said.

“When he woke up out of his coma, he didn’t remember nothing. He was, like, back and forth — to his current age to back to being a child,” he said. “I think that was the hardest thing for us. He woke up and (looked at) my Momma (and) was like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’”

These days, Thomas’ stepdad isn’t quite 100 percent, but he’s better. And Charlotte? The incident opened a door to her passion: She’s now a home healthcare worker.

It opened a door for Thomas, too. He hopes to run, not walk, through it Saturdays this fall.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” he said, “for a long time.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, read our Tiger Tracks blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks