When Tony Thurston Jr. was an all-state linebacker for Spotsylvania High School in 1997, the Knights started 1–4 but rebounded and won the third state championship in school history.

Twenty years later, Tony Thurston III has an opportunity to bring another state championship into the household.

Thurston III is an overpowering senior offensive and defensive tackle for Louisa. After transferring from Spotsylvania before his junior year, Thurston III has helped the Lions reach the Class 4 state championship game.

Louisa (14–0) will take on Salem (12–2) with an opportunity to win its first football state title at the College of William & Mary on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s wonderful to see him go and experience the same stuff I have,” Thurston Jr. said. “It’s cool because state championship runs are pretty rare, especially in our area. I’m just happy to see him be able to experience it like I did.”

Father and son have shared a bond through football for as long as Thurston III can remember. And once Thurston III reached the varsity level, the two began to relentlessly study game film together.

Thurston Jr. said his son’s passion for the game is similar to his. He said each time they break down plays on the computer at home and scribble formations on a sheet of paper, it’s a cherished moment.

“We watch film for numerous hours together and pick apart every little detail,” Thurston III said.

It plays out during games.

Thurston III is able to apply what they’ve learned on game day. Louisa head coach Mark Fischer said he and Thurston III often make eye contact and they know when an adjustment needs to be made on the fly.

“He has got one of the best, if not the best, football IQ I’ve ever seen,” Fischer said. “He’s a film studying son of a gun … His get-off is as good as any. He’s just a tenacious, hard-nosed, fighting son of a gun that is just a bear to deal with.”

Fischer said Thurston III is an honor student who is active in his church and is always willing to help out when needed. Fischer said he’s equally special on the field.

Thurston III (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) has been named Region 4B defensive player of the year and first-team all-Jefferson District.

Louisa senior running back/outside linebacker Job Whalen said Thurston III makes his job easier on both sides of the ball.

Whalen said on defense, Thurston III takes up blockers, which allows Whalen and others to roam free. Offensively, Whalen said Thurston III’s instruction to the ball carriers is simple: “follow me.”

Thurston III made quite an impression on Dinwiddie head coach Billy Mills after the Lions knocked off the previously unbeaten Generals in the region championship game, especially on defense.

“We just bounced off him when we tried to block him,” Mills said. “He’s big and solid and he can run.”

That was evident for Thurston III when he arrived at Spotsylvania as a freshman. But after two seasons his family moved to Louisa County.

Whalen said when he initially saw the size of Thurston III he was taken aback. Still, he wanted to see how he would perform on the field.

Whalen was pleased from the start.

“We knew he was going to be a special player,” Whalen said. “He fit in with all of us. We all took him in. He’s been a great asset to our team.”

College recruiters have taken notice.

University of Tennessee–Chattanooga, a Football Championship Subdivision program, has extended a scholarship offer to Thurston III. Fischer said two other schools have ratcheted up their interest level recently.

Thurston III said he’ll concentrate more on college after the season.

“I’m focused on winning states and then I’m going to crack down on recruiting,” he said. “It’s up in the air. It depends on if I get any other offers. But as of right now I plan on committing to [UT–Chattanooga] pretty soon after the season is over.”

When Thurston III heads to college he’s hopeful he’ll have a state championship ring with him. It’ll be an achievement he’ll have in common with his father.

Thurston Jr. was unable to make Spotsylvania’s 20th anniversary celebration earlier this season because his son had a game that night.

“My son and I are very close and football brings us closer,” Thurston Jr. said. “It’s a positive thing to pass down what I know to help make his game better. It’s just an all-around awesome experience.”

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Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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