BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
The first round of the NFL Draft came and went tonight with only one native Californian selected — UCLA defensive end Datone Jones, who went to the Packers at No. 26. But among the many who could be selected Friday in the second and third rounds of the draft and Saturday in rounds 4-7 are two from Bakersfield.
Here are the names to watch for as you scan the draft tracker over the next two days:
• The better-known of the two is Phillip Thomas, who played quarterback for Bakersfield HIgh's 2005 section championship team but has spent the last five years at Fresno State becoming one of the nation's top collegiate safeties. Thomas, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, led the nation with eight interceptions (three returned for touchdowns). He also forced four fumbles. It's that kind of ball-hawking ability that has teams interested despite pedestrian combine results (4.65 in the 40) and an ankle injury that cost him the 2011 season.
Thomas said several teams approached him before the draft and said he wouldn't slip past the second round, but a couple of projections (NFL.com and Scouts, Inc.) don't have him off the board until late in the third round.
"I'm in the dark, man," he said Thursday afternoon. "You never really know until they call your name. I'm just looking forward to enjoying myself today and sitting back, watching (the draft) a litlte bit and just relaxing with family and trying to enjoy the experience."
When he's drafted, Thomas will be the first Kern County high school product taken since the Chargers took Ryan Mathews (West High, Fresno State) 12th overall in 2010. Before that is another Fresno State pipeline product, Chris Denman of Tehachapi (7th round to the Buccaneers in 2007), and Rodney Leisle of Ridgeview, who played at UCLA and was taken in the 2004 fifth round by the Saints.
"It's a lot of excitement, a lot of emotion," Thomas said. "I always rep Bakersfield, always rep where I came from. I'm excited to see people make it into the league from there and put Bakersfield on the map. It's an exciting time for me and my family."
• This won't happen till Saturday, if it happens at all, but Bakersfield Christian graduate Ryan Clanton could get picked late in the draft. Clanton, who's 6-5, 310 pounds, was a starting guard for Oregon last year and though he wasn't invited to the NFL Combine, he wowed scouts at the Ducks' pro day: 42 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, the most by 4 of any player in the draft, plus a 5.0-second 40 time that showed he's strong and agile for a big guy.
All of that means Clanton could get picked up late — and if not, a team will certainly take a chance on him in a free-agent deal. He said Wednesday about half of the NFL's 32 teams had contacted him. That's not bad for a guy who didn't even suit up for BCHS' football team until he was a junior.
"It doesn't matter to me whether I'm drafted or it's a free agent (deal)," Clanton said. "I'm just excited to get a chance. A lot of guys get too picky or too cocky and start blowing teams off, but hey, you could draft me or pick me up, whatever. I'll be just as excited as if I'm the first overall pick. I'm just grateful."