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Easy was never part of Piedmont High wide receiver Thomas Propst’s journey through high school football.

Begin with the high school football expectations that come with being Rush Propst’s son. Mix in a broken navicular bone in each foot, add a junior season filled with transition and foot pain and end with a broken wrist that happened in non-contact the Tuesday before the first round of the playoffs.

Yet he basically shrugs off praise for enduring some tough times.

“You got to be there for your teammates,” Propst said. “They’re counting on me to play on Fridays, to help them out. They would do the same for me if they were injured.”

On Friday night, Propst and his Piedmont teammates have a difficult test as they play host to Gordo in the Class 3A quarterfinals. At some point, the high school football ride will end for Propst.

“It’s been good,” Propst said of his final season. “I feel like we’ve had a good run. I feel like we’re going to have a good week. I’ve had some ups and downs this year. We’re striving for the state and have the best record we can get.”

Propst began high school at Colquitt County in Georgia, the year after his father was fired from the school, and was at Valdosta High in Rush Propst’s season at the school. When the elder Propst was dismissed at Valdosta, the family moved back to Rush’s roots, and Thomas enrolled at Piedmont.

“When he moved here, every kid here knew of him because he was Rush Propst’s kid,” said the highly successful Piedmont head coach Steve Smith, who is 196-35 with seven state championships at Piedmont.  “When your dad has been as successful as he’s been, in two different states, coaching football, before these kids knew him as Thomas, they knew him as Rush Propst’s son. I think expectations come with that, just because [of] who he was.”

Smith said the expectations had no effect on Propst’s ability to become part of the team.

“I’d like to commend Thomas for doing an outstanding job of coming in here and blending in,” Smith said. “He’s blended in well with our kids. Our kids have welcomed him with open arms, and he’s become part of this football team over the last two years. His dad, mom, brother and sister, everybody has been supportive. It's actually been a smooth transition, I think, for everybody. Thomas has certainly done a great job of helping our team out.”

Propst’s original foot injury came during his sophomore year at Valdosta. He was still in the process of healing during his junior year at Piedmont. Propst played on special teams, was the holder on field goals and extra points, and played in junior varsity games. He was part of Piedmont's state championship team.

“Number one, he got here in the summer, didn’t know a whole lot about what we were doing,” Smith said. “Number two, he was never fully healthy last year. That first broken bone he brought with him from Valdosta, I don’t think he ever felt completely confident until after Christmas of his junior year.”

Propst had a growth spurt, growing from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-2 ½ from the time his junior season ended until preseason camp began this summer. He also went to work on measurables under his control. He went from 145 pounds to 180 pounds. He improved his bench press from 170 pounds to 240 pounds. He improved his 40-yard dash time from 5.3 to 4.7 seconds. He did it by working with his teammates and working on his own. During the spring and summer, in addition to team workouts, Thomas and his father would head to the Birmingham area a few days a week to train at Godspeed Hoover with Lance Rhodes and Blake Prime, who are former players at Hoover under Rush Propst. Smith said there were days off he gave his team but Thomas still did work on his own.

Things were going well. Thomas had established himself as one of the team’s top receivers, and a big year was expected. Then adversity struck once again. Propst broke the navicular bone in his “good foot” while planting his foot on a route during a passing camp and, after healing, aggravated it again on the second day of preseason practice.

For some, that might have been it. For Propst, he found a way.

Smith said the doctors came up with a plan to get him through the season. On Monday, during game plan installation, and Tuesday, which is the day heavy on practice for the offense, he would practice. On Friday, he would play. Every other day he would be in a boot, riding an exercise bike or doing some other conditioning when the team was practicing

On the field, he flourished. Propst has in the neighborhood of 50 catches and 600 receiving yards, catching passes from record-setting quarterback Jack Hayes. He did this while getting limited snaps, especially early in the season. In some games, he had as little as 15-20 snaps.

“Just got to manage it, how much you can do and not do on it,” Propst said. “I was just taking it day by day. Early on, I forgot about it. Sometimes, once I start playing, I can feel it, but I just keep on going. I did get frustrated with it, a little bit.”

Smith laughed when Propst mentioned the frustration.

“As a coach, you get frustrated with him, too, because I’d look up, it was supposed to be a boot day, and he’s out there trying to practice,” Smith said. “He’s a competitor and he’s been a big part of our success this year, so he’s wanting to be out there. It got to the point where I had to keep a close watch on him, to make sure he wasn’t sliding out there to get an extra day in. I appreciate that, as a coach, just because it shows his competitive nature and wanting to be out there with his team.”

By the final two weeks of the season, Propst was practicing nearly every day. And then, last Tuesday, Propst hit his wrist on the goalpost, and now he has another injury to deal with. He’s been fitted with a splint that will be padded, allowing him to play against Gordo.  

Chances are pretty good he’ll find plenty of ways to contribute.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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