Out of the Chute: Former Student Athlete Rides Path to Success

You’ve all probably seen a movie version of Parker Thomas’s life. Kid grows up in a big city in the south, dad decides to move out to the country for that ranch life. Kid becomes interested in rodeo, the great outdoors, passion for sports, and importance of academics. Will he be a bull rider or a financial services guru? [Cue dramatic music]

Stop right there, Parker Thomas ’16 laughs. Thomas is an Associate Director and Leadership Advisor at The Siegfried Group in Charlotte, N.C., helping financial leaders with their most important accounting/finance initiatives. His bull-riding days are a distant – and slightly painful – memory.

man and son on horse
Growing up on a working ranch, Parker Thomas and his father learned all about horsemanship.

The Siegfried Group is a national, entrepreneurial leadership organization that provides financial executives with a powerful combination of leadership advisory, financial advisory, and talent delivery services. Thomas landed at the firm after a successful career at PwC in Tampa.

Discipline Yields Lasting Results

Thomas’s rise in the world of finance may have begun during his early years playing multiple sports in Fulshear, TX. He reflected that the early lessons instilled by the discipline involved in individual and team sports also helped shape him in his academic pursuits.

In addition to the required responsibilities that come with living on a multi-acre property, Thomas and his older sister were encouraged to pursue any form of physical activity they liked; Thomas enjoyed and excelled in sports, but also shared his sister’s love for horsemanship.

While his sister became adept at barrel-racing, goat-tying, calf-roping and the occasional quarter-horse judging and rodeo queen auditions, Thomas preferred to go on trail rides, and participate in competitive riding events, including bull-riding. At the time, Thomas was in middle school.

For those who are not familiar with the cowboy arts, the process of learning how to ride a bucking-bull sounds deceptively easy. What you do, Thomas says, is tie a barrel between two stout trees and pretend that the barrel is a 2,000-pound bull. Easy peasy. You might have a friend or two jostling the barrel and the ropes to simulate the often-frenetic movements of the bull.

A common misconception, Thomas says, is that the bulls used in riding competitions are provoked and taken advantage of in some way to cause the wild bucking. Not true at all. What is true, Thomas says, is they don’t like anything on their backs or tension around their flank (AKA “funny bone”), and they will buck to remove it. Once the rider is thrown off the bull, they usually settle down pretty quickly.

Thomas made several attempts at bull riding after mastering the “barrel bull.”

“I was in the sixth or seventh grade at the time,” Thomas says. “I had my chaps, vest and helmet on, and when I was looking down at the bull from the top of the chute, it was terrifying.”

That first time, Thomas stayed on the bull for four seconds. To advance to the next level, the rider must stay on for eight seconds.

At his next attempt, Thomas managed six or seven seconds. On his final attempt, the bull upon which Thomas was perched somehow managed to turn around and rammed Thomas’s knee into a metal pole in the chute.

“At that point,” Thomas says, “I came to the realization that maybe this isn’t for me.”

Out of the Chute: Thomas Focuses on Baseball and Academics

As much as he enjoyed rodeo, Thomas’s real dream was playing Division I baseball. He had excelled in soccer, basketball, football, judo, and swimming, but his father suggested to narrow it down to one sport – and bull-riding was definitely out – to decrease his chances of getting injured.

When he chose baseball, it was because he enjoyed it the most – and it was the one at which he was most passionate about. Thomas began traveling with his club team throughout much of the southeast, and then transitioned to his high school team during the spring seasons. He was playing baseball all year round from sixth grade until the end of high school, and also getting noticed for his skills.

In addition to his raw talent, Thomas was a southpaw – batting and pitching left-handed. Southpaws are baseball’s “most endangered species,” according to a 2020 article from the MLB.

left handed pitcher throwing pitch
Southpaws – those like Thomas who pitch, throw and bat lefthanded, are sought-after by baseball scouts.

Throughout his entire baseball career, versatile Thomas excelled at first base, pitching, and hitting. When he received an athletic scholarship to Texarkana College, he was the team’s starting pitcher, logging 50+ innings in his 12 games pitched. His tenure at TC was short-lived, he says, because the school’s athletic program was eliminated after his first year due to the college’s lack of funding. He tried out for and was offered a scholarship to take his talents to Weatherford College, another junior college in Texas, where he developed confidence as the team’s late reliever while successfully striking out 46 batters in his 17 appearances. He loved serving in this role and knew he had what it takes to compete at a major Division I institution.

And although he knew the likelihood of playing Major League Baseball was slim to none, he had also figured he could still have a respectable college career in the sport. He began thinking about what he wanted to do for the rest of his life – and after his time at Weatherford.

He had not given up on his dream of playing Division I baseball.

His cousin, Charlie Adams, was a partner at one of the Big Four accounting firms and had also been a standout student-athlete, earning his accounting degree and throwing javelin at Texas A&M University.

two men in formal wear
Parker Thomas, and his cousin Charlie Adams.

“Charlie was definitely my mentor then and continues to be to this day,” Thomas says. “He told me early on that although I was a good baseball player, I was probably not going to reach the level of a Major League player.”

That “real talk” freed Thomas to consider his options for the future.

“Charlie told me that accounting was the best business degree because of the versatility it offers in the world of business. Plus, my strong suit had always been working with numbers.” Thomas says.

UCF Scout in the House

At a baseball game against Grayson, another community college in Texas, Thomas and the rest of the team had heard there would be a scout in the stands. Turns out the scout was Ryan Klosterman, one of UCF’s assistant coaches.

“I feel like there was something magical happening that night,” Thomas says.

At most baseball games, there is a designated spot where the scouts will sit and watch the game. Thomas made eye contact with Klosterman, who had not come to the game to see Thomas play but must have seen something in the southpaw pitcher.

Thomas remembered seeing Klosterman in his UCF gear, and remembered thinking, “Where is UCF?”

About a week after that game, Thomas learned more about the Knights when Klosterman emailed his coach and expressed an interest in having Thomas consider joining the team. He was not only interested in his athleticism, but also the fact that Thomas had an impressive academic record.

“Grades were always top priority for me,” Thomas says. “I could be the best JUCO player in the nation, but if my grades did not meet the criteria, all the hard work was for nothing,” he acknowledged. “At the time, I had roughly a cumulative 3.9 GPA.”

man signing documents
Parker Thomas achieved his long-held dream of playing Division I baseball at UCF. Here he is on signing day.

Coach Klosterman told Thomas that he reminded him of Joe Rogers, a UCF standout who was also a southpaw, and who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Detroit Tigers.

By the time Klosterman and Thomas had agreed where Thomas would spend his next two seasons, it was late in the process, and he completed most of his paperwork virtually. His first time on campus wasn’t until a few weeks before fall orientation.

“Once I saw the campus, I instantly fell in love,” Thomas says. “I had that immediate feeling that I had made the best possible choice.”

Adapting to the Rigorous Life of a Student-Athlete

When deciding about UCF, Thomas still knew that he wanted to major in accounting in the College of Business. He was met with some gentle resistance from a registration coordinator who knew that UCF athletes already have a rigorous schedule.

Thomas explained that he’d had conversations with his coaches about his schedule, and the coordinator said, “OK, just wanted to let you know that you were in for something.”

Turns out, he was.

“It was a major shift for me,” Thomas recalls. “I tell people that being a student athlete is like having two full-time jobs.”

His weekly schedule usually involved waking up early for conditioning or weights then heading to class, then practice, followed by study hall. After the group study hall, Thomas would head to the library for some more study or research time. Back to his room at 10 p.m. or so, and then rinse and repeat the next day.

Thomas and some other student-athletes made it through their grueling accounting program together: Caleb Houston (punter), Gage Marsil (long snapper) and Shelby Turnier (softball pitcher).

“We were fulltime student-athletes, but the coaches understood that we were also committed to our studies. It was us four always, you know, in study hall or going to library to cram for upcoming accounting tests together.”

Thomas’s hectic schedule was manageable, he says, but an unintended consequence was that he was unavailable for summer internships due to summer ball designations. He made some lasting memories those summers, sharpening his pitching skills and developing relationships in Melville, Saskatchewan; Houston, Texas; and Staunton, Virginia, but was unable to apply for an internship until his “super senior” year.

Super seniors are student-athletes whose eligibility expired but were a few academic credits short of graduation.

Making a Name for Himself

Before he graduated, his cousin Charlie stepped in, and suggested he apply to PwC as an auditor.

Thomas says there’s always some adjustment period starting a new job, but it can be especially fraught when a family member recommends you for the gig.

“I think I definitely had an image in the back of my mind that I couldn’t screw this up,” Thomas says, “Or I would risk damaging my cousin’s reputation.”

But Thomas was confident that he could excel in his new role. He had worked toward his goal of being successful in the accounting industry for years, and it didn’t take long for him to apply the knowledge he had absorbed at UCF’s College of Business.

“As an auditor, my job – as well as PwC’s mission – was to instill trust in society by ensuring our client’s financial information was accurate, reliable, and compliant in accordance to the applicable accounting standards in place for public and private organizations.”

Thomas says it took him a year or so to adapt to his new environment. Soon, he was managing 20 to 25 individuals, and contributed different enhancements and improvements to firm’s clients nationwide. He was committed to leaving things better than he had found them, but also interested in growing his reputation in the field.

Thomas also became more interested in helping financial executives with their most important accounting and finance initiatives outside of external audit. He was ready for his next career move.

“At Siegfried, we help people transform themselves into better leaders, to exponentially improve their lives,” Thomas says. “Our goal is to develop long-term relationships with financial leaders in Corporate America and strive to help them effectively deliver towards their top priorities, while also providing clarity on what’s most important to them, personally and professionally, through the 3 unique offerings of our business model.”

“We don’t want to be transactional. We want to be of-service in more ways than offering a resource to assist their team. We want to help through the great times and the tough times, and to always be the best advisor of what you should be doing from a leadership standpoint.”

It’s a role that requires not only a deep background of accounting, but also having considerable communication skills, both of which traits Thomas honed during his days at UCF.

“At UCF, we learned how to handle being in the spotlight and doing post-game conference interviews or speaking to the media,” Thomas says. He was also required to represent the brand, hosting potential recruits during their official visits and helping them understand what it looked like to play at UCF.

Also, Thomas admits to having always been a “talker.”

“I enjoy talking to people, and building relationships,” Thomas says. “And I guess I’ve just learned how important it is in maintaining credibility and trust.”

There are similarities to building a career in business and to rising to the level of an elite athlete, Thomas says.  

“In both situations, you must always be prepared. When I was pitching, I knew I always had a chance to compete and help our team win, but that only came from hours of team practice, dedicated time working on where I needed to improve physically and mentally, and doing whatever it takes to get better when no one was watching. Similarly, I have some important meetings next week, and you better believe that I’m going to show up prepared, because if I don’t, there’s a chance I would not have as meaningful of a conversation as I intended, which is a disservice to the individual(s) I’m meeting with.”

When Thomas and his wife, Heather ’16 (also a student-athlete, and Health Sciences grad) moved to Charlotte in 2021, he knew he wanted to become more involved with UCF. The Thomas’s had been involved in the UCF Alumni Tampa Community but wanted to become more involved within the Queen City.

“We wanted to become even more connected,” Thomas says. “We are both so grateful to be UCF Knights, and it’s kind of fun to share my own story about how I had never even heard of UCF until I was recruited. And now, here we are.”

Thomas is the Vice Chairman and leader for National Networking Knights, an event held annually for UCF Alumni Communities throughout the nation.

[If you would like to find a community near you, get involved now!]

group of people at restaurant
UCF Charlotte Young Alumni Community in the house for National Networking Knight.

Thomas is also involved with the Leatherheads, a division of the Charlotte Sports Foundation whose supporters help ensure every event is unforgettable by providing invaluable assistance with game logistics, marketing efforts and activations.

He obviously still loves sports and reflects on his time as a student-athlete fondly. But Thomas said that as much as he still enjoys talking about his time at UCF, he recalled that there were some difficult times after graduation.

Thomas Faces Challenges Post-UCF

“I think that student-athletes sometimes live in a bubble,” Thomas says. “After the stadium lights turn off or the cleats are hung up, things change. I had some difficulties after graduation and felt like an outlier at first. My world completely changed, and I was not quite ready for it. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to talk to someone about things you might be struggling with and I 100% believe it would have been helpful to talk to someone at the onset of my career at PwC.”

Thomas and his wife are strong advocates of mental health counseling following the still birth of their first child, Delilah, in early 2020.

The Thomases hesitated about sharing their deeply painful and personal story with UCF. They never want anyone who reads their story to feel uncomfortable.

“It was a terrible time in our lives,” Thomas says. “I’m not even sure if the word ‘terrible’ accurately captures it. But it did show us how healing it can be to talk to someone.”

The couple experienced unimaginable pain and grief from losing sweet Delilah, they said. It took time for them to rebuild their relationship with each other, and to renew their faith in Christ.

“We knew that excluding her in our story would be doing Delilah a disservice,” Parker Thomas says. “We are so grateful to share the blessings she brought to us, even if it was for a short period of time. She is in a better place, and is our guardian angel guiding us through the rest of our journey here on Earth.”

Through the healing counseling, the Thomas’ were able to allow themselves to experience the joyous birth of Baker, who will turn 2 in January 2025.

Parker and Heather Thomas with Baker Thomas, and their family.

The Thomas’ are already introducing their adorable son to different sporting fundamentals – the accounting spreadsheets will have to wait for a bit.

“He can already throw that baseball well,” Thomas says. “And I put a golf club in his hand as soon as he could sit up, just to see what he would do. He instantly started moving that sucker around and then, sure enough, invented his own game of hockey-golf after we got his first set for his first birthday.”

“It’s a little early to tell if he’s a lefty,” Thomas says. “But he’s definitely taken after my wife, who ran track-and-field at UCF, and is a running fool every chance he gets.”

Staying Connected to UCF

With their busy lives, the Thomas’ say they understand that it can be difficult to incorporate an added responsibility like joining a UCF Alumni community.

“For me,” Thomas says, “I want to stay connected with UCF and my Knight network nationwide. I am excited to help us grow, and I’d love to hear and see what other alumnus are doing post-graduation. I think – and hope – that my story and my background can contribute in at least a small way to our overall success, and I hope my fellow alumni consider becoming involved. Go Knights!

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