Gordon Lee's Cody Thomas proves his toughness in return from devastating injury

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Gordon Lee's Cody Thomas (16) follows through after making contact. The Trion Bulldogs visited the Gordon Lee Trojans in a GHSA high school baseball game on April 13, 2021.

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. - It's said experience is the best teacher, an adage Cody Thomas put to good use in the past six months during a difficult time.

The Gordon Lee High School senior two-sport star faced the likelihood of missing the baseball season after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in the fourth game of the Trojans' football season. Already devastated by having to miss the football team's best season in recent memory, Thomas was determined to beat the odds and make it back as the top-ranked Trojans baseball team chased its third consecutive state championship.

Even the most optimistic recovery time is six months for the ACL repair. Thomas underwent surgery in November. Coach Mike Dunfee's Trojans hit the field in February, giving Thomas no room for setbacks if he wanted to return for the stretch run.

Here, however, is where the experience comes in.

"My eighth grade year I tore my left ACL, so I knew what the rehabilitation would be like," Thomas said. "I went to the same physical therapists I went to the first time and I told them, 'I really want to come back for baseball,' and we kind of pushed it to get me back.

"My first thought after I injured the knee was I might have to miss my last baseball season. I promised myself I would get back."

Due to their familiarity with each other, Thomas and physical therapist Pablo Alvarez at the Center for Sports Medicine were able to get right to work. Instead of spending time finding out what his patient could and couldn't handle, Alvarez already knew Thomas could push it and still be careful.

"That helped so much because Pablo knew how I was and he knew how much I wanted to get back," Thomas said. "When I was in physical therapy there were a lot of guys with the same surgery and I was kind of progressing faster than they were, so I thought I had a chance."

photo Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Gordon Lee's Cody Thomas (16) takes a lead off second. The Trion Bulldogs visited the Gordon Lee Trojans in a GHSA high school baseball game on April 13, 2021.

While the self motivation was the initial spark, the support of his teammates and coaches added to Thomas' willingness to grind every day. Even though he couldn't participate, he would show up for practice and games, each visit fueling his fire to return.

"To the team, his leadership is big, especially after the guys saw what he did to get back," said Gordon Lee coach Mike Dunfee, whose team will enter next week's playoffs as the top seed from Region 6-A public.

"He's a great kid. He's a solid player who loves the game and he wants to pursue it in college. I want him to have as many games as possible because he's just an awesome kid. The playoffs, hopefully, will help him get noticed. That kid deserves it because he worked his tail off to get back."

Thomas was cleared for activity April 6 and was immediately put in the lineup. That night he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs as Gordon Lee edged region rival Bowdon, 9-8.

"I was just extremely thankful to be in the box," Thomas said of his first at-bat of the season. "That was all I thought about. It feels great to be back. The guys have been super excited and pumped for me and that has meant the world."

Should Gordon Lee get to the championship round - it would be the program's sixth such appearance under Dunfee - Thomas will have time to convince college scouts he's worthy of a shot at the next level. As of now he's still waiting on that chance, and even if the coming weeks mark the end of his athletic career, Thomas will take his experience with him to his next stage of life.

"As of now I am going to UNG (University of North Georgia) and I'm planning to major in Kinesiology," he said. "It's something I really enjoy and, after twice going through what I've had to go through, I want to help people."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com; follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.