Chris Thacker Jr.

Junios Smith | December 21st, 2017
Chris Thacker Jr. (Photo by Chris Thacker Sr.)

Chris Thacker Jr. (Photo by Chris Thacker Sr.)

Since a 10-2 season in 2010, the Golden Eagles go a combined 14-50 with no playoff appearances over the next six years. Ben L. Smith would change its fortunes in 2017, winning five games and reaching the postseason for the first time in seven years. “The seniors we had on this team were good,” Chris Thacker Jr. said. “They were great leaders and we wanted (to win) more this year. As juniors, we took it to heart too and we’ve progressed over the past couple of years, winning two games (in 2015) and three games last year.”

Thacker Jr. made one of the biggest sacrifices for the team, switching from playing outside linebacker in 2016 to running back this year. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound junior said it was tough to switch positions, but he wanted to do anything for the Golden Eagles.

“The coaches were telling me to work on it in the summertime after seeing me play around in the gym,” Thacker said. “I worked four months trying to get my footwork and balance right, and moving in space.”

The work paid off for Thacker Jr., who led the team with 474 yards rushing on 5.1 yards per carry while adding 15 catches for 213 yards and four total touchdowns. On the ground, his best effort came with a 7-carry, 86-yard game against Western Guilford in a 42-6 blowout in the regular-season finale Nov. 3, and his greatest play came Oct. 20 against North Forsyth when he caught a 65-yard touchdown pass in the Golden Eagles’ 27-24 Senior Night victory.

“That night was all about the seniors,” Thacker said. “I wanted to look good for myself and it felt good to get the touchdown, but it was more for them.”

Ben L. Smith may have done just as much — if not more — for the community. The Golden Eagles didn’t have play any home games in 2016 due to construction on a new stadium before going 3-3 on campus this year. The team’s biggest highlight of the season came on Sept. 15, when the Golden Eagles hosted Eastern Guilford and upset the Wildcats 14-11. Eastern Guilford would end up winning their next nine games from there, falling to New Hanover 32-29 just one contest shy of a NCHSAA 3A state championship appearance.

“It meant a lot being an underdog and beating the No. 7 team in the state,” Thacker Jr. said. “We didn’t win them all, but just making the playoffs was big for us after winning just three games last year.

“We had a lot of support from the community — they made it easier for us. Last year, we had to play all away games and this year the fans filled up the stadium every home game. They know we’ve been through a lot and we’re thankful for them.”

Thacker Jr.’s father, Chris Thacker Sr., said he’s been impressed with his son’s work on and off the field, including his transition from defense to offense.

“He’s disciplined and shifty on his feet,” Thacker Sr. said. “He moved from outside linebacker to running back this season — he was a very impressive defensive player in JV before playing varsity his sophomore season. Academically, he’s an A-B student and has been a great son.”Chris Thacker Sr. said his son has continued to progress in life despite losing a major supporter in his life early.“He’s been through a lot growing up with his mom passing when he was 9,” Thacker Sr. said. “He’s stayed focused, kept his head in the books and has continued to make great choices, even when I’m not around. He’s taken up football since he was 7 and truly has a passion for it. During the weekends he’s studying college and NFL games, so it lets me know this is definitely a goal for him besides school and he wants to achieve them.”

Thacker Jr. said he wants to do everything in his power to ensure he does right by his mother. “I just want her to look down on me and be proud of what I’m doing.”

Next season, Thacker Jr. said he’s planning to take more of a leadership role as a senior and wouldn’t mind playing both running back and linebacker for the Golden Eagles. Thacker played sparingly defensively this season with 11 tackles in order to focus on the other side of the ball.“I want to make sure the team is straight and all the younger guys know what to do,” Thacker said. “I feel like I can be a great leader and help, while also getting better stat-wise. I want to play both sides of the ball next year and be an asset, but most importantly I’m focused on making sure we win every game we play.”

The drive to improve on a strong 2017 campaign is what motivates Thacker Jr. and the Golden Eagles. Although the great season ended with an unceremonious thud in the first round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs to Lee County, Thacker said there’s a lot to be proud of as the team continues to rise.

“From the outside looking in, people wondered why we were so happy although we lost our first-round playoff game 40-0,” Thacker Jr. said. “We’re proud of ourselves and the legacy we’re creating because we’ve done something others haven’t been able to accomplish at Smith. I appreciate everyone I played with and this is one of the best teams I’ve ever played on.”

Thacker said he’s hoping for even more success next season, team-wise and individually. The junior has garnered some interest from schools such as South Carolina State and Western Carolina, but wants to solidify a position in the near future.

“Academically, I want to finish toward the top of my class with a 3.5 or 4.0,” Thacker said. “On the football field, I want to win a ring and have some scholarship offers. It’s all I’ve wanted to do ever since I came to Smith.”

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