BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Some time tonight, Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas will get the phone call that changes his life.
Or, at least, that's the plan when the NFL Draft resumes at 3:30 p.m. with the second and third rounds.
"I'm in the dark, man," said Thomas, a 2008 Bakersfield High graduate. "You never really know what's going or when you're going to get picked."
Several pundits agree that today is the day for Thomas: Fox Sports' mock draft sends him to the New York Giants with the 17th pick of the day, the 49th overall. NFL.com and Scouts, Inc., don't have a team picking Thomas until late in the third round, which would come late tonight.
From talking with team scouts and executives, Thomas, who will watch the draft with family in Fresno, is optimistic but cautious.
"I hear a lot of second round, that I won't go past the second round," Thomas said. "But I could fall back to the third or whatever. People make projections, but it all depends on whether they feel like they need you in that moment, when you get that phone call."
Thomas is 6-foot-0, 208 pounds and was invited to the NFL Combine in February, which he called "a big job interview."
"It was a great experience, but it's a lot more than what people think and what it seems like," Thomas said. "It's a lot of busywork, a lot of meeting with doctors and talking to teams, going around to interviews. And being from the West Coast, you have to get up at 6 a.m. every day, which is 3 for me, and not going to bed till late. It was a bit of a struggle."
Thomas had a passable performance -- 4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 14 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press and a 35-inch vertical jump -- but what really has teams excited is is natural ability at pass defense.
A finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as a senior, Thomas led the nation with eight interceptions. He added 84 tackles, five pass breakups and four forced fumbles.
"Teams like my skillset," he said. "I've got certain skills naturally that you can't teach people. I have ball-hawking abilities, finding the ball in the air. People are really excited how I'm involved in a lot of plays."
Whether that leads to a quick phone call tonight or a long night of waiting remains to be seen. If and when Thomas is picked, he'll be Kern County's first high school product picked since the San Diego Chargers took West High's Ryan Mathews, who also went to Fresno State, 12th overall in 2010. Before that, you have to go back to 2004, when the New Orleans Saints took Ridgeview product Rodney Leisle out of UCLA in the fifth round.
Thomas is ready to be added to that list.
"It's a lot of excitement for me, a lot of emotion," he said. "I always rep Bakersfield, my hometown, where I come from. I'm excited when other people make it to the league from there and put Bakersfield on the map, so this is an exciting time for me and my family."