Julius Thomas started playing football three years ago.
Last night, he had five catches for 110 yards and two touchdown in the Broncos’ opening-night win over the Baltimore Ravens
Thomas, a 6’5″ pass catcher, never played varsity high school football. He went out for the team as a freshman, but quit before preseason ended because of lower back pain caused by a growth plate issue, he told MaxPreps in 2011.
He ended up going to Portland State on a basketball scholarship. His stats were decent (he averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds as a senior) and his team made the NCAA tournament twice. But as an undersized forward at a small school, he didn’t have much of a future after playing 121 games for the Vikings in four years.
Here he is during a March Madness game against Kansas:
So after his hoops career ended, he went to the football coach and asked to go out for the team.
“He did the sales job on me,” coach Nigel Burton told the Seattle Times.
He was a natural. In his first and only season of college football, he caught 29 balls for 453 yards and made first team All-Big Sky.
While he was short for a basketball player, he was the perfect size for a tight end. Combine that speed (4.6-second 40-yard dash) with great hands, and he had all the natural talent to excel at football right away.
The Broncos took him in the 4th round of the 2011 Draft, and now he’s Peyton Manning’s No. 1 tight end option.
This is another example of how significant a role natural ability plays in becoming an elite athlete. Thomas spent his whole life playing basketball, but was never going to reach elite status because of factors out of his control (height). He spent a few months playing football — a sport that he was genetically made to play — and he’s an NFL starter.