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Thomas' 40 time turns heads

March 10, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

Through most of his senior season at UCLA, Imperial native and Bruin inside linebacker Robert Thomas had to listen to NFL scouts and draft "experts" talk about his speed, or lack thereof, in the 40-yard dash.

A key in determining an NFL prospect's worth, a player's 40 time can determine where he is selected in the NFL college draft.

Thomas hadn't run a 40 prior to his senior year, so scouts projected his time at 4.9 seconds. A 4.9 is hardly stellar. In fact, a 4.9 for a linebacker is flat out slow.


The time was so bad that Thomas thought he had something to prove to all the scouts, "experts" and everyone who thought he was only as good as his 40 time.

Thomas got his chance to show all the doubters how fast he really was at the NFL scouting combine at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis on Monday.

All the 4.9 talk was put to rest as Thomas blazed through the 40 yards, turning heads and proving how fast he really is as he was clocked in the low 4.5s and was even clocked by ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. at 4.47.

"I just had so much anger because I wanted to prove everyone wrong. When I was first projected at 4.9, that really upset me because I've never run a 4.9 in my life," said the 6-foot, 240-pound Thomas, regarded by most as the top inside linebacker in the draft. "Right when I was at that line, I was thinking to myself, ‘I'm gonna show you 4.9 right now.'"

Thomas outran all other linebackers, including top outside linebacker prospect Napoleon Harris of Northwestern, who was clocked between 4.54 and 4.59, and even outran running backs William Green (4.61) of Boston College and former UCLA teammate DeShaun Foster, who clocked a 4.58.

"I was surprised with my time. I knew I could run fast, but I didn't know I could run that fast," said Thomas.

While the time was impressive, what made it even more impressive were the events leading up to it.

At the end of his senior year Thomas was set to start in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. but an injured calf muscle sidelined him.

By not playing in the game, Thomas was unable to help his own stock by performing against the nation's top seniors under the watchful eyes of NFL general managers, coaches and scouts.

"I think that kind of set me back a little bit. I had been working hard to get to that point, since my Imperial days," said Thomas, a finalist in 2001 for the Dick Butkus Award for the nation's top linebacker. "After that, people were just talking about me not playing in the Senior (Bowl). But I just took that as another challenge, like I had something to prove."

Thomas began to rest his calf, not running any 40s so he wouldn't strain it. After two and a half months of not putting much strain on his calf, he was set to go to the combine.

At the combine, he didn't have to worry much about his calf being tested, but had to worry about his mind, character and mental toughness.

He arrived in Indianapolis at about 4 or 5 p.m. March 2, where he and hundreds of other NFL prospects shared a hotel with representatives from all 32 NFL teams.

He was then given a shirt to wear that listed him as "LB 23 - Thomas." From the moment he checked into his hotel, the interview process began. He started interviews about 5 p.m. and visited teams until 1:30 a.m.

He was able to get a few hours of sleep and began the next step in the process at 4:30 a.m. the next day, with physical examinations, MRIs and X-ray exams and running until 5 p.m.

Through that time he continued to meet with head coaches.

"That whole thing is just like a meat market. They pull you into each room, interview you, ask you all kinds of questions and that whole thing just gets mentally draining," said Thomas. "There's actually a lot of players that don't go through the combine because it is so mentally draining. But those teams are investing all that money in you and they want to know what they're getting."

The combine concluded Monday with Thomas and the rest of the linebackers hitting the RCA Dome field to do drills, bench presses and run 40s. In the bench press players have to press 225 pounds as many times as possible in 30 seconds. Thomas finished with 21 reps, about middle of the road for linebackers, who ranged between a low of 16 and a high of 25.

"The combine, that whole process is something that I can't even explain. That's an experience I'll definitely tell my kids about," said Thomas.

While he was impressive during drills and interviews, the one thing that remains as the highlight of the combine for Thomas is his 40 time. He said even though he wasn't able to run any 40s leading up to the combine, he did another kind of training to prepare for it.

"I told a reporter a little after I ran, that I haven't really trained in the last two months. The only training I did was in the Bible," said Thomas. "All that time I just kept praying and kept my faith in Him. I know He brought me too far to leave me now."

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