A Champion’s Spirit

by Ashley Johnson | Photo by Jason Flowers

As James Thrower looked up at the fans towering over him at Franklin Field, and down at his jersey, the white Philadelphia Eagles’ wings on his shoulders, he knew his hard work had paid off.

“It was an indescribable feeling,” he said. “I knew in that moment I had made my parents proud, as well as my hometown, and my friends at East Texas. I was determined to keep achieving, and never forget where I came from.”

Growing up in a small Arkansas town, Thrower learned the value of a hard day’s work at an early age. His mother ran a snack shop out of their home, and his father ran a service station and garage. Their can-do spirit was contagious, as was their emphasis on education.

Thanks to his skills on the basketball court, Thrower found his opportunity to pursue a college degree through an athletic scholarship to East Texas State University.

“I was offered scholarships to all-black colleges, but my parents wanted me to go to an integrated school,” Thrower said. “Coach Farmer, the basketball coach, assured my mother that my first priority would be academics. She was happy with that.”

Coach Farmer’s words came to full fruition when first the football and then the track coach noticed Thrower’s athletic potential beyond the basketball court. For Thrower, joining each team was simply another way to participate in the winning spirit at East Texas.

“Our coaches drilled into each of us the importance of becoming a champion,” Thrower said. “We became known in the NFL as one of the top Texas schools for producing ball players with good attitudes who always gave 100 percent effort. Shortly after graduation, I, too, was recruited for the NFL.”

On his way to the Eagles’ training camp, he considered how far he had come. He wasn’t ready to head back home yet; he had something to prove. After arriving early and leaving late from every practice, Thrower was officially named a Philadelphia Eagle.

After an additional three years with the Detroit Lions and a knee injury in 1975, he landed in corporate America. However, Thrower soon found himself searching for a new challenge-something bigger than him.

Based on a friend’s recommendation, Thrower considered owning a McDonald’s franchise, an opportunity that would let him build a legacy for his family through the No. 1 franchise in the country.

Today, McDonald’s is a family affair with his wife handling the administrative details, three of his four children actively involved with the franchises, and more than 400 employees at eight McDonald’s franchises.

Despite Thrower’s successes in both football and business, he consciously stays grounded by driving through some
of Detroit’s roughest neighborhoods on his way to work each day.

“It reminds me of how I’ve been blessed, and that I need to be a good leader for all the young people that work for me.”

That desire to give back to his community extended to A&M-Commerce in 2010 when Carlton Cooper, A&M-Commerce athletic director, reached out and encouraged Thrower to reconnect and give back to his alma mater.

“Doing what I can to help others is what it’s all about,” Thrower said. “Praise the Lord that He gave us the blessings, the character and the resources to give back in significant ways to help others.”