Despite the litany of talented football players Southwest Florida has produced, Stantley Thomas-Oliver III had exactly one coming out of high school.
After hauling in 59 catches for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns at Charlotte High School, Thomas-Oliver went from tiny Punta Gorda, Florida which boasts a population of roughly 16,000 residents to Miami and Florida International University.
He earned a starting role as a true freshman for then-coach Ron Turner and finished the year leading the Panthers in yards per catch, in addition to being named to the 2016 Conference USA All-Freshman Team.
However, when current FIU head coach Butch Davis arrived for the 2017 season, Thomas-Oliver played sparingly before deciding to switch the 6-2, 185 pounder to defensive back.
The next season, Thomas-Oliver re-entered the starting lineup three games into the season and would start the final 24 games of his collegiate career as FIU’s number one cornerback.
In 2019, he led FIU with eight pass-breakups and was named to C-USA’s All-Conference Second Team along with being part of a senior class that went to three consecutive bowl games.
He sat down with UDD fresh off an excellent week at the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Author’s Note: As UDD’s FIU beat writer, I covered Thomas-Oliver during the 2018 & 2019 seasons.
EH: Since the bowl game, you earned a spot in the Tropical Bowl all-star game and a spot in the East-West bowl directly after that. How much of a whirlwind has the offseason been?
Thomas-Oliver: It’s been fun. I got the Tropical Bowl invite as we were preparing for the bowl game and then the night before the game, I got the late call-up to East-West.
I’ve been working with E.J. Biggers since the end of the year who’s like a big brother, so that’s helped me a lot.
We’re working on my off-coverage skills because I played a lot of press coverage at FIU and just my overall game as a corner.
EH: What was it like in both environments lining up with guys you’ve just met?
Thomas-Oliver: It was a great experience. Meeting people from all over and meeting new personalities. Learning how other teams and players operate.
I got to play with Benny Lemay who I saw a lot at Charlotte, so it was just an amazing experience.
EH: Let’s talk about your journey - what led you to FIU?
Thomas-Oliver: I have family down in Miami, my grandparents and cousins live here. So there was a comfort level, just knowing I always had a place to go. It’s a great school and a great place to play football.
EH: For someone who’s never been, how would you describe Punta Gorda?
Thomas-Oliver: It’s a very quiet and relaxing place. It’s not too loud if you’re a person who likes to just stay inside and chill, that’s the place for you.
Definitely not the big city and bright lights of Miami, Punta Gorda is still home for me.
EH: What are some of the biggest differences between Southwest Florida and Miami?
Thomas-Oliver: Everybody knows everybody back home. A lot of people have their favorite food spots and it’s just the routine. Miami is a totally opposite lifestyle, it’s loud, it’s fast and it’s large.
EH: In 2017, you switched from receiver to corner, did you make the decision and had you played defensive back before?
Thomas-Oliver: I’d never played corner before but it was a mutual decision.
EH: Walk us through the moment when Butch Davis and the other coaches tell you that you’re flipping to defense.
Thomas-Oliver: Going into the Gasparilla Bowl practices, (FIU receiver) Shemar Thornton was running routes after practice and he needed a DB to run against. All of the DB’s already left the field and I just happened to be out there.
Next thing you know, we go from just playing around to it actually becoming competitive.
I didn’t even know that Coach (Butch) Davis was out there watching us with Coach Eric Thatcher and he pulled me aside afterward and asked me if I would be willing to make the switch.
I wanted to be on the field and help the team any way I can, so I told him yes right there on the spot. It didn’t matter if it was corner or safety, I just wanted to be back on the field in any way I could.
EH: Who were some of the guys on the team who helped you make the transition?
Thomas-Oliver: My brother Ike (Isaiah) Brown, E-Man (Emmanuel Lubin) those guys rallied around me and I always followed them in drills.
Let them lead first, then I would follow and just duplicate what they did. Anytime I had a question, I knew I could talk to them or Coach Thatcher.
Ike is my right-hand man, he’s literally like my brother. So he’s helped me out a ton. Between him and E-Man, those guys were the corners ahead of me and taught me everything I know.
EH: For those of us who have seen you consistently, you’re not afraid to hit. Where did that come from?
Thomas-Oliver: For me, it goes back to Pop Warner. We used to hit all the time, that was how you knew whether you really wanted to play the sport. Hamburger drill and Oklahoma drill, it’s one of those things that - it’s football.
Once I made the switch, I wanted to be a great corner and I know that’s part of the position, so I took that head-on.
EH: This year, you had an excellent season that included a pick the upset of Miami. How exciting was that and how was the locker room postgame?
Thomas-Oliver: That moment has been the best so far in my football career.
Hearing how loud the stadium got - the sound of fans chanting FIU - I’ve never been apart of that because we don’t have the biggest fan base at home.
So for that to happen at that stadium (Marlins Park) in front of a big crowd and with that type of atmosphere, (it) was an amazing moment. I’ll never forget that because that’s what you envision as a player.
Of course, you watch the LSU’s and Alabama’s on TV and want that type of crowd.
But at the end of the day, we play the game of football because we love it and you want to dominate the opponent in front of you, whether the fans come out there or not.
But for it all to come together in that one moment, it made it that much sweeter.
EH: Your position coach this past year was Bryn Renner - what’s he like as a coach and how has he helped your game?
Thomas-Oliver: Ah man, I call him the energy man. He has all the juice, he’s always ready to just get us hyped and do something.
As far as coaching, he helped me a lot because as a former quarterback, he helped us with things such as coverages from the QB’s point-of-view, how to disguise what you’re doing to the quarterback.
He played that position at a high level, so he was able to help me a lot in terms of my football IQ.
EH: Off the field, what does Stantley Thomas-Oliver like to do for fun?
Thomas-Oliver: I’m a movie guy, I love movies. I’m a video game guy, playing NBA 2K and Madden.
I can’t think of too many people who have beaten me in 2K. If you beat me once, that’ll be your only time. I’ll pretty much challenge anybody.
I like to just stick to my own when I’m not playing because, for me, football takes up my everything.
EH: What was your most embarrassing moment on the field?
Thomas-Oliver: My freshman year, we played Louisiana Tech. I caught a shallow cross, split between two defenders and broke loose. Then, out of nowhere I got tackled by my dreads and threw me to the sidelines.
The next play I sat out and my teammates were asking me - are you tired? I was l like no, I feel like my head is about to explode like my dreads are being ripped out of my head.
Everyone started laughing, but just for that moment, I had to take a break.
EH: Which NFL player do you model your game after?
Thomas-Oliver: Richard Sherman. I like his story, it’s similar to mine with him playing receiver and corner. One of the things I love about his game that I want to implement into my game is his IQ. He knows what the offense is doing before the ball is even snapped.
I love his swagger and how he likes to talk and never backs down, he’s relentless.
EH: Lastly, if I’m an NFL coach, why should I take a chance on you?
Thomas-Oliver: I’m going to do whatever it takes to learn the playbook, help the organization and win.