March 16, 2012

'Tree' on the gridiron

Kevin McCarthy

It was Irish dramatist George Farquhar who coined the phrase, "Necessity, the mother of invention." In this particular case, his own, Phillip ‘Tree’ Thomas assumed the fatherhood role.

photo of Philip 'Tree' Thomas

The last we heard of Thomas, he was completing his senior season of hoops eligibility at Portland State, averaging 9.7 points and 3.2. rebounds per game in 21 minutes each contest. His basketball sojourn began after playing for Coach Todd Peterson at San Leandro High, followed by a year at the University of Idaho, a season at College of Eastern Utah and then a final couple of years in the Rose City.

What happened next?

"The [Portland State football] coaches came at me, saying here's a scholarship for a year, we'll get you ready for the NFL," Thomas explained.

There actually was a precedent.

One of Thomas' former Portland State basketball teammates, Julius Thomas (out of Tokay High in Lodi), did the exact same thing.

After four years on the basketball court for the Vikings, J. Thomas made the switch to tight end.

What happened after a single gridiron season was the Denver Broncos calling Thomas' name in the fourth round of last year's National Football League draft.

As P. Thomas put it, "that opened my eyes."

So he went for it, despite having never donned a uniform. The football coaches way back at San Leandro had been on him to come out but to no avail.

"I had never put on cleats or shoulder pads before," Thomas said. "But I learned the way to wear them so it makes you look cool. Football has swag."

At 6-foot-8 and 260-265 pounds, it was one large jersey.

He added, "My teammates were great guys, down to earth and supportive. I really thank them for my improvement."

The new journey began in March of last year. and finished in December

"I played tight end a good amount of time in spring and summer," Thomas offered. "But I was switched to defensive end after three games into the season and then later back to tight end. This year, tight end was mainly used for helping the running and we had great running backs in Shaquille Richard and Willie Griffin [a former McClymonds High talent]."

The Vikings averaged 5 yards a rushing attempt this season.

Asked about the differences in playing on opposites of the ball, Thomas said, "On the defensive side you have to be a monster. Offensively, you still have to attack other players but it's not like playing defense."

So why did Thomas change directions?

"I like challenges and wanted to take it on," Thomas explained. "I was a couple of credits short of my degree and this allowed me to finish school."

Portland State had a Pro Day this week where the speeds and verticals of players were measured and talents eyeballed.

So one Thomas, a Portland State tight end, went high in the draft -- can a second one do so making it a trend?

The National Football League draft will be held on April 26-28.