On Wednesday morning at Hillsborough, seven Terriers signed national letters of intent to continue their football careers once they leave high school behind. For longtime coach Earl Garcia, days like that are the best part of his job.
"It's a culmination of a lifetime of work for the kids, because they've been playing since they were in little league, for the most part," said Garcia, who has coached football in Hillsborough County for more than 40 years. "It's a celebration."
For one signee in particular, that was an understatement.
In a Sept. 22 game against Tampa Bay Tech, senior free safety Agyenim "Iggy" Thomas made a tackle early in the third quarter. When the play was over, Thomas remained motionless on the ground for almost an hour, as emergency personnel and coaches tried to wake him up. When he finally did come to in the ambulance, Thomas said he was unable to talk or move his body from the neck down.
"Waking up, not being able to move. It's a real scary experience, especially when you don't know what's going on with you," Thomas said. "Usually you take plenty of hits. And just one little hit, any play can be your last play."
That night, Thomas didn't know when or if he'd be able to move his legs again, let alone continue to play football. But four months later, he sat at the table in Hillsborough's auditorium, a letter of intent to play football at Division III Becker College sitting in front of him.
Thomas, whose brother was in attendance, addressed the crowd before announcing his college choice, fighting back tears as he talked about his recovery and the people who helped him along the way. Below the table, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Terrier wore leg braces under his dress pants.
Thomas regained feeling in his arms the night of the accident, but it was four days before he had feeling below the hips. Two weeks after he got out of the hospital, Thomas received a text message telling him he had an opportunity to play football at Becker in Worcester, Mass.
"It made me happy that someone was still giving me a chance," he said.
Thomas said he hopes to be out of his leg braces in the next couple of months. Soon after, he'll graduate and move on to his new team, alongside Hillsborough teammates Marterrence Holloway and Elijah Hill, who also signed with Becker on Wednesday.
When he goes, though, Thomas said he'll take one very important lesson with him.
"It teaches you not to take anything for granted," he said. "Anything can happen at any time, so you just have to be grateful for every day of your life."