Football and music are Andrew Thomas’s passions, and early on, to the bewilderment of his high school coaches, he practiced both at the same time. An offensive tackle, Thomas would pretend his pads were drums, banging on them while standing on the sideline. Sometimes he would even do it in the huddle as the quarterback called the play.
“After that, the head coach said something to him,” Kevin Johnson, who coached Thomas on the offensive line at Pace Academy in Atlanta, said in an interview. “It kind of woke him up.”
Thomas devoted himself to football, morphing from a 230-pound freshman who could barely bench press half his weight to the highest-rated offensive line recruit in Georgia. But he also continued playing the drums, on his own and in concert band, and his pursuits would collide at Pace’s pep rallies. Thomas would play drums with the band, then join his teammates, wearing his football jersey all the while.
The demands of playing Division I football were too taxing for him to stick with band at the University of Georgia, so he taught himself piano. From playing percussion, he learned auxiliary instruments, like the vibraphone, which has the same keys, he said.
“I was already familiar with the notes and scales,” Thomas said in an interview, “so learning to play wasn’t too hard.”
As with football, where he gained confidence through thousands of repetitions, Thomas found comfort in the mundane. The more he practiced, he recognized, the better he would get. Some songs, he learned just by listening. Others, he picked up through YouTube videos. He is working on “Blessed,” by Daniel Caesar, on his keyboard, and he said that spending more time inside during the coronavirus pandemic had helped him improve rather quickly.
On the precipice of his N.F.L. career, Thomas still draws on his musical background. At some of his high school competitions, he said, concert bands would receive sheet music they had never seen before and then play it on the spot to see how well they reacted.
“It’s the same thing in football,” he said. “Something may happen that’s unexpected, and how well you respond can change the end of the game.”