YOU ARE HERE: IVPress HomeCollections

IHS alumnus Robert Thomas nabbed by Rams

April 21, 2002|By ERIC GALVAN

Sports Writer

During the 2002 NFL college player draft Saturday the draft picks went by, the hours passed and Imperial native Robert Thomas waited at his brother's house in Del Mar.

The 21-year-old former UCLA linebacker waited to get that phone call, to hear his name called and for his NFL future to be decided.

He was nervous, almost afraid one of his biggest goals would not be reached.

More than five hours after the draft started and 31 picks into it, the phone rang. On the other line was St. Louis Rams head coach Mike Martz. Martz only had one question for Thomas: "Robert, are you ready to be a Ram?"

About two minutes later the world learned that the Rams, with their first-round draft choice, made Thomas' dreams come true by selecting him to become the newest St. Louis Ram linebacker.


"That was a great feeling when I got that phone call. I really can't explain it. Words can't explain what I was feeling. When I found out I was going to be a Ram, it just brought tears to my eyes," said the 6-foot, 235-pound Thomas. "When I got off the phone I just thanked God for all the blessings and for all He's done for me because He's the one that made this happen.

"Going to the Rams, this is a great organization with a great defense and they're Super Bowl contenders," said Thomas. "Actually, I thought I was going to go to Green Bay, but then they traded up higher than where I was expecting to go. As the draft was going on I was just being patient and tried to stay calm. When the picks were being announced later in the first, I just told myself that St. Louis was my only hope to go in the first round."

Earlier, at pick No. 23, the Oakland Raiders selected the first linebacker in the draft, taking Northwestern's Napoleon Harris.

Eight picks later St. Louis made Thomas the second linebacker chosen in the first round and only the second linebacker selected in the first round by the Rams organization since 1981.

After playing all of his collegiate career as a middle linebacker, Thomas will be moved to weakside backer, where he is almost certainly expected to start in defensive coordinator Lovie Smith's system.

"I think that now, any player you look at in the top two rounds, you just have to assume that they can come in and make a quick impact. And not just special teams, I'm talking about as a starter," said Smith, during a press conference following the selection of Thomas as the team's first round pick.

"And that's why if we draft a player in the first or second rounds, we just assume that in time those players will be on the field starting for us. Some start quicker than others," said Smith. "(Linebacker) Tommy (Polley) and (safety) Adam (Archuleta), and really (defensive tackle) Damione (Lewis) were a little bit quicker last year, but that just kind of goes to show what a rookie can do if he sets his mind to it. Robert has the talent to do that."

Thomas' older brother Stan Thomas Jr., himself a first-round draft pick in 1991, said Robert's agent, David Dunn, spoke to the Rams shortly before their first-round decision. During that conversation the Rams told Dunn they were torn between picking Robert Thomas or a wide receiver.

After having that initial conversation, St. Louis representatives called back and informed Dunn that they would be selecting a receiver with their pick. A few minutes after that conversation, the Rams called again, said they had changed their minds and were going to stick with Thomas.

"Halfway through the clock, when the Rams were going to make their decision, I just said to myself, ‘This doesn't look good,'" said Stan Thomas Jr. "But, the Rams grabbed the bull by the horns and stepped up and took him. Robert is all about speed and that's exactly what Lovie Smith's system is about. Robert just fits in perfectly.

"You know, when the Raiders took Napoleon, I was kind of disappointed because that's one of the places I would've liked to see Robert go. But after Napoleon was taken, I knew that Robert was going to be the next linebacker taken. I just crossed my fingers during every pick," said Thomas. "Then when the Rams picked him, we were all just so happy and proud, people crying. It was a great moment."

Robert and his entire family will have a few days to enjoy the moment before he hops on a plane and heads to St. Louis for media day and mini camp.

"I've come a long way to be where I'm at right now, but I still have a long way to go," said Robert Thomas. "Everything that I've been able to do and making it this far has been a blessing. I'm happy to be here, but everything really starts now."

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles