Where Are They Now: South Hills State Champ, Thomas Williams, Still Pinning His Way Through Life at Age 30

Jan 30 2021 01:13:32


Pictured L-R: Williams winning a state championship in 2007, and Williams with his wrestlers as coach at Benedictine College in Kansas.

By Brian Reed-Baiotto, Sports Editor

In 2007, a San Gabriel Valley contingency saw five of its wrestlers medal at the CIF State Championships in Bakersfield.

San Dimas’ Angel Garcia was third at 119 pounds, both AJ Guardado (West Covina) and Steven De La Fuente (Northview) earned seventh-place at 135 and 140 pounds, respectively, and West Covina’s George Munoz placed fifth at 152 pounds.

It was the smallest of the group, though, that accomplished the biggest feat.

South Hills junior, Thomas Williams, defeated Kellan Aura of Pleasanton Foothill, 6-2, inside the Rabobank Arena to claim the 112-pound state championship.

Heading into that match with Aura, Williams was 1-5 in his career against the Foothill High standout.

As crazy as this may sound, the second most important moment during that historic state title run came in the semifinal round of the CIF individuals at Marina High School.

He dropped his first and only match that season to West Covina’s Chris Armendariz , and had to settle for third place.

Williams would go on from that disappointment to claim titles at Masters and State, but he feels the wake-up call he got from Armendariz was crucial.

“Everything was going so well, and then boom, I lost my first match,” Williams said. “Chris won that match and deserves the credit, and I also hurt myself with some bad eating decisions. But it served as a huge wake-up call that to compete and beat the best, you have to do everything right.”

For his high school career, Williams was a four-time San Antonio League champ, a three-time CIF winner, he claimed two masters crowns and placed first, second and fourth at state.

Williams also earned titles at the Reno Tournament of Champions twice, as well as one each at Doc Buchanan and Five Counties.

In all, Thomas Williams won 173 of his 190 high school matches.

After graduating from South Hills, he went on to wrestle for American University in Washington DC, and completed his education with a double major in both business and international affairs.

Williams moved back home to California and after a couple months, he googled “grad assistant coaches” in the hopes of finding a job coaching college wrestling, and at the same time he planned to earn his masters degree.

Within four hours of filling out an application for Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Williams got a call.

It was from the head wrestling coach at Benedictine, and for the first time in school history, they were going to field a wrestling program.

Approximately six weeks later, Williams flew to Kansas with nothing more than two suitcases and the hopes of finding success in the coaching fraternity.

But the start wasn’t ideal.

A dorm room that was promised to Williams was no longer available, so he had to live in the basement at the home of the program’s head coach.

His roles were to focus on recruiting, planning practices, training guys and running their social media.

To add to the uncertainty, that same coach quit after the first tournament, and at the age of 22, Williams was unexpectedly thrust into the position of head coach.

“I knew how things needed to be done and spent the next five years at Benedictine,” Williams said. “We had an all-American our first year, a national finalist the next, and by the fifth season, we had two underclassmen that earned all-American status.”

One of the two happened to be a kid named Kevin Kelly from South Hills High School.

In all, Benedictine College boasted five all-Americans while Williams served as head coach.

To make ends meet, Williams also taught classes in ESL (English as a second language), while pursuing and earning his Masters in Business Administration.

Of all the great things the Benedictine College program accomplished on the mat, it was something else that made Williams the most proud.

The following was a quote back then from Williams that he posted on social media:

“Today, my team was recognized for having the second highest GPA in the country. I’m very proud of my guys. They have really pushed themselves in the classroom. They are earning high GPA’s and graduating with impressive degrees. In the next two years, we will have six wrestlers graduate with their MBA’s, while wrestling for me, and three wrestlers will graduate with their engineering degrees in the next two years.”

When looking back at a remarkable career that included winning 91-percent of his matches, much of his success was attributed to Williams’ strength, conditioning and technique, not to mention he is a student of the game.

He started watching film of his matches at age 10 and always felt there were new things to learn and even more ways of getting better.

Thomas Williams also possessed one of the highest wrestling IQ’s, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

His cumulative GPA’s included a 4.0 at South Hills, a 3.35 at American University and he finished off his academic career with a 3.41 at Benedictine College.

Fast forward to 2020, and Williams lives in Redlands and is a territory manager for a pharmaceutical company.

Williams also has his own YouTube channel, where he does movie reviews on Anime and Star Wars, along with some of his comedy.

He’s even done stand-up comedy, including an experience at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, but COVID-19 has obviously put that hobby on hold.

And speaking of comedy, picture this:

Thomas Williams weighing in with either a red or pink thong before duals or tournaments.

He was just that comfortable with himself and that respected by his peers that it became normal.

The three most important people in his life remain his parents, Joe and Michelle, and his 28-year old sister, Maddie.

Joe Williams, 60, is a retired firefighter, Michelle, 54, does medical billing, and Maddie is a registered nurse, who is also enrolled in Nurse Practitioner school.

Lastly, we asked Williams how his experiences in wrestling helped prepare him for life and what his family and coaches have contributed to his life and success.

Said Thomas Williams: “The sport of wresting is such a tough and grueling sport and you learn so much from it. There are moments where 14 guys go to battle against another program, and other times where everyone’s watching you and you either fail or succeed on your own in the middle of that mat. It taught me how to be mentally tough, how to handle wins graciously, but more importantly, how to bounce back from losses or disappointments.

My parents and sister mean so much to me. They were so dedicated to what I was doing that while my friends vacationed at the beach, we went to Oklahoma or other states you might not consider ideal vacation spots so that I could compete and get better in wrestling. My parents are selfless and loving people and Maddie is the best sister that any brother could hope to have. She could be having a lousy day or she might be busy, but if I need to talk, she finds the time to be there for me.

All of my coaches contributed to my success in both wrestling and life. I really appreciate my South Hills coaches, Rob Froh, Chris Taylor, Eddie Aguirre and the rest of the staff, because they made us all feel like family and never allowed us to settle. I will always be grateful to them.”


Former South Hills/current Bonita coach, Rob Froh: “Tom was a great kid to have in the room and on the team. He wasn’t the most vocal leader, but everyone respected his work ethic and presence. He was a great student, awesome personality, and a great sense of humor. He was a little awkward socially, but he loved it and played it up. Even in wrestling. I think he would purposely make himself look as goofy as possible to lull his opponent into a false sense of confidence. Thomas was an incredibly skilled wrestler. He was comfortable in any position; on his feet, on top, or even on bottom. He worked so incredibly hard to perfect his craft that he never seemed to get rattled when things might go awry.

He could take down pretty much anyone in the room, regardless of size and you never wanted to let him get on top. He was just mean. I tell my current wrestlers all the time about how much of a competitor he was, especially when I get frustrated with their efforts in practice. Here is the best example that I can give you. In any given practice, we might go round robin. In other words, 3-4 kids in one group that go takedowns with each other for usually one-minute periods. One day, we were having a pretty intense practice and all of a sudden I hear Thomas yell f*** and throw his head gear across the room and it smacks the far wall and makes a loud crack. He stormed out of the room. I asked him what the hell happened and the kid he was wrestling just looks at me and says he doesn’t know just that he had taken Tom down.

Thomas came back in after cooling off and apologized, but said he was just mad that he gave up that takedown. Tom worked so hard and pushed so hard and was such a competitor that he hated getting taken down in a routine practice. Thomas was and is one of my favorite people that I have coached. Not because he was so successful, but because he was so much fun to be around. He just has one of the most likable personalities you could ever come across. He loves to laugh. He loves what he does and gives it his all, all of the time. He loves his family. He is just a very genuine, fun person to be around.”

Northview coach, Dave Ochoa: “Thomas was and still is an outstanding person. He was an elite high school wrestler and a great competitor, who was very dedicated and earned his success.”

Northview coach, Bobby Bellamy: “Thomas was a stud. He wasn’t the most athletic kid, but he was the epitome of a winner. Nobody out-worked him. He definitely kept me up at night. I was always trying to find a way to neutralize his leg riding. He was extremely dominant on top.”

Former West Covina coach, Donnie Stephens: “Thomas was always one of the hardest working and nicest kids we coached against. His family was also very nice, overcoming the huge rivalry between West Covina and South Hills. It was very cool to follow him in college and then as a college coach, and I am looking forward to his next journey (because he is one of the funniest people on the planet).”

Former West Covina coach, Shirley Stephens: “Here is my favorite T-Dubb story. The year Armendariz beat him, Chris blew his knee out at masters and tried to still wrestle at state. When he lost and was out, Thomas came over (even though we were huge school rivals) and told him, when I’m in the finals I’m going to be 45-1 and I’m going to win this for both of us. You’ll be that 1 on the podium with me. It was something he didn’t have to go out of his way to use his energy in the middle of the state tournament, but that was the type of kid he was. Now that he’s doing comedy, I can’t think of a funnier human being to share his personality with people. From his crazy Halloween costumes to his interesting weigh in attire, Thomas is one of a kind.”

Former longtime sports writer, Steve Ramirez: “Thomas was a fierce competitor, but he also had that rare gift of balancing his emotions, which I’m sure helped him achieve his success, and included winning a CIF State title. He was a smart wrestler and very technically sound. He was definitely one of the top wrestlers I covered. He was always pleasant to talk to and very well-spoken for a young person. When I heard he had become a coach, I wasn’t surprised, because he seemed to have that mentality when he competed.”

Thomas’ sister, Maddie Williams: “It is special growing up with your best friend and supporting each other throughout your goals. It has always been so amazing watching you achieve your goals and dreams.”

2007 112-Pound State Placers:
1. Thomas Williams (South Hills-West Covina, S1, 11)
2. Kellan Aura (Foothill-Pleasanton, NC2, 12)
3. Nektoe Demison (Bakersfield, C3, 12)
4. Conner Morgan (Del Oro-Loomis, SJ1, 10)
5. David Klingsheim (Liberty-Brentwood, NC1, 10)
6. Henry Yorba (Poway, SD1, 10)
7. Joel Labman (Oxnard, S7, 12)
8. Sophan Mey (Elk Grove, SJ3, 11)

To view Thomas’ YouTube channel link, click here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWCFZDoockE963WJFmXyZ4Q