It’s not often a college basketball player decides to take up another sport, let alone enter the NFL the following season—and then play in the Super Bowl within their first three seasons.
Julius Thomas came from Stockton, California, where he attended Tokay High School and was known as a basketball player. As he entered the college basketball scene at Portland State, he joked with his coaches and teammates about how he was going to walk on to the football team after his eligibility had run out on the hardwood.
To coach Tyler Geving’s surprise, he wasn’t joking. Thomas had saved one online class to keep his eligibility for football and he met with then football coach Jerry Glanville about coming out the following season, to which he agreed. Glanville soon stepped down and current head coach Nigel Burton took over. Thomas met with Burton after the coaching change and Burton agreed to have him come out for spring ball.
What many didn’t know about the tight end prospect was that he hadn’t suited up in pads since his freshman year of high school, where he didn’t see much time on the field.
Thomas was a standout on the court. In 2008 and 2009 he lead the Viks to the first two NCAA tournament appearances in school history and managed to finish as the program’s all-time leader in games played with 121, 78 career wins, and a field goal percentage of .663.
The tight end is entering his fourth season with the Broncos and coming off a strong 2013 year. In his career, Thomas has played in 26 games, starting 18.
The former Viking earned his first career Pro Bowl selection after ranking third among tight ends with 12 touchdowns, breaking Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe’s franchise record of 10 TD catches by a tight end. During week 17, Thomas also caught Peyton Manning’s record breaking 51st touchdown pass against the Raiders.
As Thomas was preparing for the biggest game of his life, so was his former PSU teammate Deshawn Shead. This time, they were no longer taking the field as teammates, but as rivals. At PSU, Shead was named Most Outstanding Defensive Back three years in a row beginning in 2008. He was also named to the second team All-Big Sky Conference, and the following season named first team All-Big Sky Conference.
After graduating from PSU in 2011, Shead signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent and is now a Super Bowl champion playing as a backup safety and cornerback, as well as on many of Seattle’s special teams.
Shead was contacted by the Minnesota Vikings when he was on the Seahawks practice squad and was offered an active roster spot, but ultimately decided to stay with Seattle, and he couldn’t be happier with his decision.
The Seahawks and Broncos met on Sept. 21 for the first time since the Super Bowl massacre. Week 3 didn’t seem like it would have a much different outcome for the Broncos entering the locker room at halftime, but they were able to pull out a 17–3 fourth quarter to force an exciting overtime, yet Seattle once again prevailed.
Prior to the much anticipated rematch, Shead told his girlfriend he had a bunch of extra tickets and she could invite anyone she wanted—trying to discreetly hint that her parents and family would enjoy being present. He also arranged for one of his future fiancée’s sisters to fly in from Washington, D.C.
After the game, Shead arranged for his girlfriend and family to come onto the field for a group photo. Little did she know that she was going to get her ring against the Broncos as well. In front of family, friends and teammates, Shead got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. She said yes and gave him a hug as a few teammates captured the moment on their cell phones.
Both PSU alumni have done some big things early on in their NFL careers, and with many predictions leaning toward a Super Bowl rematch, we could see the two former Vikings go at it once again on the sport’s ultimate stage.
Both Seattle and Denver have a bye this week, but Shead and the Seahawks will look to advance to 3–1 against the Washington Redskins as Thomas and the Broncos look to bounce back from their overtime loss and take on the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.