One of Tennessee’s all-time brightest track stars has died of cancer.
The life of half-miler Willie Thomas, 67, will be celebrated Friday in Chicago. He was a two-time NCAA champion for the Volunteers, 1972 and 1974.
Thomas was a high school all-American at Englewood in Chicago, a freshman at Florida A&M and a transfer to Tennessee at the end of the Chuck Rohe era.
He won the NCAA 880 in 1972, Southeastern Conference championships in 1973 and 1974 and was a key member of coach Stan Huntsman’s national title team in ‘74.
The Vols defeated UCLA in Austin, Texas as Thomas won his specialty. Doug Brown and Ron Addison placed 1-2 in the steeplechase. Reggie Jones was high-point man with a win in the 100 and a second in the 220.
Thomas was a long-time employee of the city of Chicago and, later, worked for University of Chicago. He was inducted into UT’s athletic hall of fame last year.
“He was a winner,” said ex-Vol Wilber Hawkins, probably his best friend in Knoxville. “He was an all-American in more ways than one. He loved his family and he loved his teammates. And we loved him. He made us proud.”