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Former Mount Zion standout Nick Thrasher leading Tenn. State’s defense

A pair of former Clayton County standouts help lead teams into college playoffs

Nick Thrasher makes one of his team-leading 100 tackles in a game earlier this season for the Tennessee State Tigers. (Special Photo)

Nick Thrasher makes one of his team-leading 100 tackles in a game earlier this season for the Tennessee State Tigers. (Special Photo)

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Nick Thrasher

JONESBORO — Nick Thrasher is having one of the best seasons of his football career, but personal accomplishments are not what is driving him.

The former Mount Zion High standout is more interested in what his team is accomplishing.

And so far, Tennessee State is in the midst of one of the best seasons in the storied program’s history. The Tigers travel to No. 2-seed Eastern Illinois on Saturday for a second round NCAA Football Championship Series (FCS) playoff contest.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound junior was named to the first team all-Ohio Valley Conference team after leading the Tigers with 100 total tackles, including 62 solo hits. But advancing through the playoffs is his main focus.

“It has been a great season,” Thrasher said earlier this week in a telephone interview. “I’m a team player. My first goal is to make sure we are winning and playing well as a team. We are having one of the best season’s in school history. I’m glad to be a part of it.”

In addition to his team-leading tackles, the Morrow native also has two quarterback hurries, three fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles for one of the top FCS defenses.

Tennessee State opened the postseason with a road win against non-scholarship Butler in Indiana. It was the Tigers’ first postseason win since 1986.

The win over Butler snapped the OVC’s overall 19-game losing streak in the FCS Playoffs, but they were the first OVC team to win on the road since Eastern Kentucky defeated Eastern Illinois on the road in the 1986 playoffs. It snapped a 29-game losing streak in road playoff games for the OVC.

Tennessee State will mark only the third time in league history that two OVC teams have squared off in the playoffs.

Saturday’s game against Eastern Illinois is a rematch from an earlier OVC contest played in Nashville. Eastern Illinois defeated the Tigers 34-16 on Oct. 26 in Nashville on their homecoming.

“They have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation,” Thrasher said. “It is going to be a challenge for us.”

In Eastern Illinois’ win, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo passed for 410 yards and four touchdowns.

“We have to come in and play as a team,” Thrasher said. “I know everybody on the team is looking forward to the game.”

This is Thrasher’s second season as a starter for the Tigers. Last season, he started all 11 games at middle linebacker and made 105 total tackles. As a freshman in 2011, Thrasher made two starts.

“I’m pleased with how things have gone for me so far here,” Thrasher said. “I’m just trying to represent my hometown.”