Former Russell County Laker Hunter Thomas has decided on his next step as a collegiate baseball player. Next season, he will be suiting up for the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
Thomas, a catcher who has spent the past two years with Rend Lake Community College in Ina, Illinois, said that he felt like Arkansas State “would be a great home for me and my baseball career.”
He added that a major deciding factor for him was his ability to continue his pursuit of an agriculture degree, going with an agronomy major.
“I want to work in field crop production,” Thomas said. “I want to be able to go out in the community to help farmers so they can get the best out of their crops … I weighed my decisions, and I ultimately decided I wanted to finish my degree that I’d already started and worked so hard on for two years. I had to turn some schools away because of that reason, because they didn’t have my major.”
On the field, Thomas said he hit it off with the coaching staff at Arkansas State and appreciated their candidness during the recruiting process.
Arkansas State is a Division 1 program that plays in the Sun Belt Conference, which he said would allow him to play some tough competition throughout the season.
“It’s probably the best group of coaches I’ve talked to over the past year,” Thomas said. “I felt like it would be a new home for me. They shot me straight; they were honest with me from the get-go and how I would fit in with their program.”
Thomas said that his role was going to be as a player that can “kind of step in and be an everyday guy for them.”
“I want to be an impact player for their program,” Thomas said.
Thomas thrived while at Rend Lake. This past baseball season, in 179 at-bats, Thomas led the team with 67 hits, 44 RBI, a .374 batting average, a .474 on-base percentage, and a .615 slugging percentage.
He tied for the most doubles (14), was second in home runs (9), and scored the third-most runs (40).
“I’ve had just an outstanding coach who has taught me a lot about the game in general,” Thomas said of his time at Rend Lake. “He helped me develop faster than I even thought I would. Junior college baseball is a grind … It’s tough, but junior college ball made a really big impact on where I am today. Out of high school, I didn’t have these opportunities that I do now.”
He pointed to his time learning under the tutelage of Laker head coach David Rexroat as something that helped prepare him for this next step that he’s about to take.
“Having David Rexroat as my head coach for four years, people should be able to see now what that man is capable of,” Thomas said, referencing Russell County’s state runner-up run this year. “He made a group of boys into a group of men after this year. He’s still one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever played for. He wants the best from you at all times, and he’ll get it from you, whether you like it or not.”
Thomas is currently playing summer ball in Amsterdam, New York, for the Mohawks in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.
His teammate at Rend Lake and with the Mohawks — pitcher Arlon Butts, from Cadiz, Kentucky — will be joining him at Arkansas State.
“That only makes it even sweeter,” Thomas said.
Thomas currently leads the league with 21 RBI and will continue playing there until the beginning of August.