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Thomas preparing for draft

December 12, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

When Oklahoma University's Rocky Calmus was named winner of the 2001 Dick Butkus Award as the top collegiate linebacker in the nation, Imperial's Robert Thomas, a finalist for the award, wasn't as disappointed as one might think.

Sure, one of his goals heading into his senior year at UCLA was to win the Butkus Award, but for the 21-year-old, winning really wasn't everything.

"Winning the Butkus Award was something that I always wanted, but just being up there and being considered one of the top three linebackers in the country is an honor," said Thomas, who recently earned his degree from UCLA in history. "But I didn't win it and just have to move on. The way I look at it is that award is given by the media. And I can't focus on that. The media didn't think I was the best linebacker, but to me, I believe that I am the best in the country.


"Let the media think what they want. What's important to me is what the NFL thinks about me," said Thomas. "I got beat in the Butkus race, but now I have another race in the NFL."

For the year Thomas finished with 111 tackles and 26 tackles for loss, a new school single-season record. He was named Bruin defensive MVP and a first-team All-America.

Six games into the season UCLA was 6-0 and was ranked No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series, Associated Press and coaches polls. Led by Thomas, the Bruins boasted one of the top defenses in the country. But then the team lost four straight.

Thomas continued to play at the highest level, but the team continued to fall. Thomas thinks he may have been slighted for the Butkus because of that collapse.

"I think having that four-game losing streak did hurt. When we were undefeated, we were being televised nationally and people were watching us. Then we started losing and we weren't nationally seen," Thomas said. "Oklahoma and Maryland had really good years and they were on national TV a lot. When Oklahoma and Maryland are on national TV and we're on Fox Sports 10, the media is going to pay attention to that."

Said Robert's brother Stan Thomas, a former first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears: "Yeah it's nice to win those awards and trophies, but that's not going to pay the bills. I know Rob would have loved to win it, but he's more concerned about his future and that's playing in the NFL."

Now that the Butkus is out of the picture and the Bruins won't be going to a bowl game, Thomas said his next two goals are to prepare for the Senior Bowl in mid-January and the NFL combine in February.

As he did during the summer, he will work out with trainer Doug Hicks in preparation for both.

Considered the most important of collegiate all-star games, the Senior Bowl will allow Thomas to showcase his talent for April's NFL draft.

"You know, not playing in a bowl game is something that really worked out well for Rob," said Stan Thomas. "Because he doesn't have to worry about getting ready for a bowl game, he'll be able to work out and prepare for the Senior Bowl and the combine.

"There's a lot of scouts out there at the Senior Bowl. They're watching during practice, how they go through drills, how they practice, their work ethic. They watch everything. And by him not having to prepare for some other bowl, he'll go in fresh," said Stan Thomas. "He'll have fresh legs and a fresh body and he'll be able to perform better than those other guys. And if he can dominate in the Senior Bowl, that'll help his stock a lot. For the goals that he's set for himself, things couldn't have worked out better."

After playing all four years as a middle linebacker at UCLA, Thomas will play outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl. Because of his athleticism, quickness and the fact that NFL teams are more likely to take an outside linebacker before inside backer, Thomas will start at weakside linebacker.

While Thomas is continuing to take care of business on the field in preparation for the Senior Bowl and the combine, he is also taking care of business off the field trying to decide on an agent to represent him.

With the help of Stan, Robert has narrowed the field to about four agents, all of whom are scheduled to meet with him this week. The field of agents started with 25, was cut to about 10 and now has reached the final four.

Thomas thinks he has been able to weed out the bad from the good.

"You know, you have agents pulling up in front of your house with nice cars and beautiful girls inside just trying to do anything they can to get you to sign. But you have to be a strong individual, stay focused and put all that aside," said Robert Thomas. "There are a lot of guys who go after that sort of thing and take what's given to them. But for me, this is like a test of my character.

"When something like that comes up, I just remember what my mom (Elizabeth) taught me when I was growing up," said Thomas. "I always listened to my mother when she would give me words of wisdom telling me to be respectful, be spiritual, just stay focused and not let in any outside temptations. Staying true to what she's taught me has made this whole thing no problem at all."

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