By Jerry Briggs
Brothers Josh Stewart and Kerry Thomas Jr. shared the same bedroom as kids growing up in the New Orleans area. They even slept in the same bunk bed.
Eventually, the bunk was taken apart, with the beds separated and placed on opposite walls.
But, for the most part, the two standout receivers for the UTSA Roadrunners have remained inseparable to this day.
In fact, they survived a natural disaster and came out of it stronger as a result.
“We’ve been through a lot, growing up,” Thomas said. “We’ve seen a lot. Hurricane Katrina took a toll not only on us but also on the entire city of New Orleans.
“For us, of course, it was a struggle. But we took the struggle and we tried to use that to elevate our game, just knowing where we came from, and using that on the field, to fuel the fire.”
The family’s home survived the hit by the deadly storm in 2005. But by 2008, Stewart and Thomas and family left abruptly, bound for College Station.
“It was kind of like a bad transition,” Thomas said. “Our mom was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to Texas.’ That was just how it was. We just had to pack up our stuff.”
An uncle was waiting in Texas to take them in.
“He wanted us to come out to stay with him, just to get away from the city of New Orleans, from the environment, to put ourselves in a better situation (to live),” Thomas said. “That’s how fast it went. We moved -- just like that.”
No matter where they lived as kids, the brothers always pushed each other to excel in sports, and both ended up playing high school varsity basketball, and then football, in College Station at A&M Consolidated.
“We were really close,” Stewart said. “We did everything together. Dressed alike. Played basketball, football (together). Because I’m older, they would allow him to play up with me so we could continue to play throughout our sports career.
“In high school, when I decided to play football, he also came out. He said, ‘If you play, I’ll play, too.’ ”
The UTSA football program has reaped the benefit this fall, with the junior wide receivers combining for 38 catches 729 yards and 9 touchdowns between them.
As a result, the resurgent Roadrunners (4-4 3-2 in Conference USA) remain in postseason contention heading into a road game Saturday at Middle Tennessee State (6-2, 3-1).
Stewart (19 catches, 440 yards, 3 TDs) ranks fourth in the nation with 23.2 yards per catch. Thomas (19, 289, 6) has already broken UTSA school records for TD catches in a season and in a career with 11.
It was more or less expected that the 20-year-old Thomas would play well this fall after competing in the program the past two years. He caught four TD passes last year. But the rise to prominence of the 21-year-old Stewart has come as something of a surprise.
After all, he hadn’t played a down of football since 2012, his senior year at A&M Consolidated. In addition, he wasn’t even in a college football program in 2014.
First-year UTSA coach Frank Wilson said it’s a testament to Stewart’s work ethic that he has excelled after so many years out of the game.
“He does it in practice, so (plays) you see in the games are a replica of what he does every day in practice,” Wilson said. “He’s one of the better practice players that I’ve ever been around, and it’s translating into the games.”
Stewart’s route from A&M Consolidated to the UTSA starting lineup has been nothing short of remarkable. In 2013, he spent his first fall out of high school as a redshirt at Division II Midwestern State University.
That same year, Thomas, as an A&M Consolidated senior, committed to play for UTSA. Later, when he signed and enrolled in 2014, Stewart tried to follow as a walk on, but he didn’t qualify academically.
As a result, the older brother enrolled in Blinn College in Bryan to take six hours so that he could become eligible. When he enrolled at UTSA in 2015, more adversity struck.
He blew out his knee in a workout and ended up sitting out all of last season.
Thomas called it a “blessing” that the two are finally playing again on the same team, and making a significant contribution, in the process. He characterized it as something akin to destiny.
“I think it’s a vision,” Thomas said. “We always saw ourselves playing (on the same team). Whatever sports we played as kids, we played together … We’ve never really been apart until he went off to college before I did.
“I think (playing together) was a vision we both saw. Of course, we always felt we were great athletes, but then God made a way to bring us back together again.”
The brothers have been on fire lately. Both have combined with quarterback Dalton Sturm for three pass plays that rank Nos. 2-3-4 as the longest in school history.
On Oct. 8, at home against Southern Miss, Thomas caught a 71-yarder for a TD and Stewart followed with a 77-yarder, only to get tackled at the opponent’s two.
On Oct. 15, on the road at Rice, Stewart executed a 75-yard catch and run for a TD that turned a defender completely around.
Last weekend, in a 31-17 home victory over North Texas, the brothers scored in the same game for the first time at UTSA.
Thomas produced a 7-yard TD pass reception from Sturm in the first quarter. Stewart added a 21-yarder over North Texas cornerback Eric Jenkins in the second period.
Stewart said he prayed to get through the tough times in recent years.
“(I was) praying for strength and believing in my work ethic,” he said. “I believed the entire time that something good would come out of the process. So I just stayed firm in my beliefs and worked out as hard as I could.”
He said it is gratifying to achieve success in the wake of what happened after high school.
“Yes, sir,” he said. “That’s what keeps me humble. Knowing where I came from, and what I had to do to get here. I know the blessing that God has bestowed upon me. I don’t take that lightly at all.”
Stewart is 6-feet-4 and is adept at jumping high to make catches over defenders on deep throws. Thomas is a rugged 6 feet and 205 pounds. He runs precision routes.
During the past year, Stewart has been on the UTSA campus, watching Thomas continue to work hard at his craft after a productive sophomore year. He said his little brother is getting better.
“I feel like he’s more focused,” Stewart said. “He’s always been a great route runner. His routes have always been pretty good. He’s been pretty crisp since high school. But I just feel like he’s more focused and dialed in now.
“He’s fine tuning and understanding why (we run certain things), just the whole concept of the play. It’s helping him get open more and make plays.”
Off the field, Thomas rooms with Sturm. Stewart is roommates with defensive end Marcus Davenport. But Stewart knows how to find Thomas.
“I don’t see him every night,” Stewart said. “But, I see him. A couple of days, he’ll come by … I’m actually going over to his house later on today.”
Just like old times.