Former Viking turns his football career pro

This time last year, Julius Thomas was just beginning his football career at Portland State and now the former Viking basketball player turned football star is heading to the National Football League.

This time last year, Julius Thomas was just beginning his football career at Portland State and now the former Viking basketball player turned football star is heading to the National Football League. The Denver Broncos picked up the 6-foot-5 tight end in the fourth round of last week’s NFL draft—the highest round that any former Viking player has been drafted at since 1980. Thomas, known for his pass-catching abilities, also has the height and speed to be a successful rookie in the league.

Thomas arrived at Portland State as a star basketball player, but it turned out he had other hidden talents up his sleeve. With just one year of football experience during his freshman year of high school, Thomas mostly kept his focus on the court growing up, but said that he always kept football in the back of his mind as an option.

“(Playing football) actually crossed my mind a lot playing my last year (of basketball). I thought my skill set was better suited for football,” Thomas said.

After making his name on the court, he moved into football and was quickly noticed by pro-scouts. Thomas performed well at the East-West Shrine Game, catching the sole touchdown and two-point conversion for his team. From there, Thomas was invited to the NFL Combine where his strong showing earned him more mentions of a possible late-round draft pick. After talking with different coaches and teams, Thomas said that the Broncos were one of his top destinations.

“The [Bronco’s staff] said they were trying to make a trade, so just stay on the phone.” Thomas said. “I wasn’t trying to get too excited, in case the trade didn’t go through, but I kept thinking that this was my number one choice, and I was excited inside, but trying to stay calm.”

When the pick was finalized and announced on TV, Thomas said his family and friends around him cheered so loudly the coaches had to call him back to explain the details.

The Broncos have high hopes for Thomas at tight end and are excited about his potential. Portland State tight end coach Steve Cooper said that it took Thomas just days to switch from catching a basketball to receiving a football, but the coaches felt that blocking was his next step.

“It’s funny because when he first got here all he wanted to do was pass catching [drills], and we told him if you want a chance to play at the next level you need to learn how to block.” Cooper said. “So, we spent a lot of time working on [blocking] because the catching thing is natural to him.”

Thomas echoed his former coach’s goals and said that he now understands the importance of blocking to be an all-around tight end.

“Blocking is something that was brand new for me, but I’m starting to become more comfortable the more I understand what to expect from the defense and being able to anticipate the plays,” Thomas said.

Despite being a little rough around the edges in overall technique, Cooper believes Thomas has the athleticism, heart and drive to make a name for himself in the NFL. Cooper also pointed out that Thomas is always asking the right questions trying to make himself a better player.

Cooper added, “Hard work and his character are probably his main attributes.”

Thomas acknowledges the step up in competition won’t be easy, but is excited for the challenges that the season will bring.

“I’ve always wanted to do well in the things I picked up, and that drive is going to be huge coming in as a rookie and [having only] played one year,” Thomas said. “It’s that drive that separates me from other people and helps me be successful, that drive is going to be the biggest key to my success.”

Still, Thomas is aware of the patience and dedication it took from his coaches, teammates and mentors to help him get to this point in the journey.

“I appreciate everyone that contributed to make my success—the facility and professors and coaches, both basketball and football and the friends that I made at PSU,” Thomas said. “[I’ll be] the first person to say I didn’t get here by myself, and I’m happy with that.” ?