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Former North standout Thacker working way up college coaching ranks
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Former North Forsyth football player Andrew Thacker toiled for several years as a college football graduate assistant before landing a job at Southern Mississippi as a safeties coach this season. - photo by Photo courtesy of Southern Mississippi athletics

Andrew Thacker will always have an open invitation from his stepfather and former coach, Gainesville High’s Bruce Miller, to visit and scout Red Elephant players during any appropriate recruiting periods.

In fact, Thacker, the new safeties coach and Georgia recruiter at Southern Mississippi, made a trip to Gainesville during spring practice to talk with Miller about players he might like to recruit.

Thacker, who was hired officially on Jan. 1 after five years of graduate assistant work, says that asking Miller — a man he’s on a first-name basis with — about football players is quite natural with their very close relationship dating back to when Miller married Thacker’s mother Donna when Andrew was in the fifth grade.

"It was really fun when Andrew came up here (in spring) to scout our players," Miller said. "After we were done, then we were able to go home and talk about it.

"Andrew’s got such a great grasp of the game and I think he’s got what it takes to be very successful."

The respect is mutual.

"As a stepfather, I look up to Bruce a lot," said Thacker, who also maintains a close relationship with his biological father Mickey Thacker. "He’s a man of great principle and it’s great to use him as a resource."

Thacker, who was a key piece of Miller’s teams at North Forsyth for three years before moving with Miller to Gainesville in 2002, worked hard to get to this stage of his career at just 28.

Thacker played on back-to-back state semifinalists his junior and senior seasons of high school – with North in 2001, then with Gainesville in 2002. After a standout playing career of his own at Furman University as a defensive back, he served as a graduate assistant at Central Florida in 2008 and 2009, then moved to Oklahoma State to work as a graduate assistant on the defensive side of the ball the past three years.

Life as a football graduate assistant isn’t glamorous work, but it allowed Thacker to make some key professional connections in the college coaching world.

With the Cowboys, he worked under fiery head coach Mike Gundy and linebackers coach Glenn Spencer, who got his start coaching at West Georgia.

Thacker was extended the coaching opportunity from former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken when he took the head coaching job at Southern Miss after 2012 season. Both stayed on board with the Cowboys program through the 2012 Heart of Dallas Bowl win over Purdue.

"I feel very fortunate, very blessed to have this coaching opportunity," said Thacker. "I’ve been groomed for this position by some of the best coaches around, and I appreciate all the time I’ve had to work underneath them."

The new Southern Miss assistant coach says two of the most influential people he met professionally came during his time at Central Florida.

In 2008, Geoff Collins, who played for Miller at Rockdale County High, was linebackers coach with the Knights and extended the opportunity for Thacker to work as a graduate assistant.

Thacker also credits Dave Huxtable, who was the defensive coordinator at Central Florida, with teaching him about what it takes to work as a college coach. Both Collins and Huxtable have moved on since that time: Collins is defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Huxtable is in the same position with North Carolina State.

Thacker says that the biggest changes in becoming a full-time staff member are being responsible for an entire position group and knowing all the NCAA rules and regulations to comply with in recruiting. He’s in charge of recruiting for the entire state of Georgia and part of Alabama at Southern Miss.

Having a well-respected stepfather in the high school coaching industry is a great way to break the ice with others across the state.

Taking the field on Saturdays with a major college program will not be a shock for Thacker this fall. He’s been on the sidelines for plenty of big games, including a win against top-10 ranked Texas Tech and a win against Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl, both while doing grad assistant work while at Oklahoma State.

"Andrew’s worked five long, hard years to get where he’s at," Miller said. "We’re all very proud of him."