SE Texans Thomas, Weatherspoon 1st-round draft prospects

The National Football League’s 2010 draft is less than a month away and for the first time in quite a while there is a distinct possibility of two Southeast Texas football players being taken as No. 1 draft choices.

These two young men are no strangers to Southeast Texas football fans—they played against each other in high school just 70 miles apart and on the collegiate level in the Big 12 Conference.

We’re talking about Earl Thomas, an All-State defensive back from West Orange-Stark High school and Sean Weatherspoon, an All-State linebacker from Jasper. 

They played against each other two seasons on the high school level and two years in college, where they both earned all-Big 12 honors along with being named to the All-America team after the 2009 season.

And it’s a pretty good bet Thomas and Weatherspoon will face each other at the next level as professional football players in the NFL. Strangely enough, the only time the two actually played AGAINST each other on the same football field may have been on special teams, because they both play defense.

Weatherspoon played four seasons at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. while Thomas wore the burnt orange of the University of Texas Longhorns in Austin for two seasons, deciding to make himself eligible for the NFL draft after his colossal sophomore season for the ‘Horns.

Both athletes have spent the past couple of months showcasing their speed, agility and strength at the various NFL scouting combines that are carefully scrutinized by front-office personnel from the various NFL franchises. The teams not only are looking for great football talent, but also what kind of individuals these prospects are off the football field.

And from the information these general managers and head coaches obtain from watching these NFL hopefuls at the scouting combines, many take the next step by inviting these players to their respective training facilities.

Thomas, who gained All-American honors for his play at safety for the Longhorns was thought to be too small for free safety at 5-10, so Earl hit the weight room after the season and pumped his body up from 190 to 208 pounds for the combine, which puts his build close to that of Pro Bowl free safeties Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens and Brian Dawkins of the Denver Broncos.

He started all 13 games for Texas in 2008 as a red-shirt freshman and intercepted two passes, breaking up 17 others and forcing four fumbles. 

Thomas stepped up from freshman All-American to national first-team All-American as a sophomore in 2009, leading the nation with 24 passes defensed and ranking second in the nation with eight interceptions. He also made 143 tackles over the last two seasons for the ‘Horns.

“I think of myself as a defensive back playing corner, safety, strong safety or wherever they need me—even in the slot,” Thomas told USA Today Sports Weekly recently. “So wherever they have me, I’ll play. It really doesn’t matter. I’m just a ball player ready to play. Especially at the nickel position, I’ve blitzed a lot.”

NFLDraftScout.com evaluates Thomas as a player who “quickly recognizes the action and, has the speed to get to the spot to make a play. He has the speed to turn and run with receivers as a cornerback. He attacks throws in front of him and has good range as a safety.

“He can make the interception or a big hit to separate the man from the ball. He makes quarterbacks pay for a late throw over the middle, baiting them into making poor decisions. He has excellent hand-eye coordination and very good burst and closing speed to the ball. He wins most battles for the ball in the air.

“He’s willing to support the run and flies into the action at full speed, pounding backs in the open field. He directs the secondary and knows his teammates’ assignments.” NFLDraftScout.com ranks Thomas as No. 19 in the upcoming draft April 22-24 and second-best cornerback of the draft prospects.

According to the Miami Herald’s website Thomas is scheduled to visit the Miami Dolphins this week while ESPN.com says he also will visit the Cincinnati Bengals this week. However, both the Houston Texans, who pick 20th in the draft and the Dallas Cowboys who have the 27th pick are in the market for a cornerback.

Weatherspoon interviewed with more than 20 NFL teams at the recent combine, where his stock went way up. The Atlanta Falcons expressed an interest in the personable linebacker, along with the Cowboys and Texans. He is scheduled to meet with the Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs and the New Orleans Saints this week.

Unlike Thomas, Weatherspoon’s agent heard from the scouts that his 252 pounds that he carried last season was a bit too heavy, so he shed 13 pounds and arrived at the combine at 239 pounds.

The agency that represents Weatherspoon, Athletes First of Irvine, Calif., also represents Thomas and Colt McCoy of Texas and a dozen or so other draft prospects and focuses on interview techniques and familiarizes the athletes with the battery of aptitude and psychological tests the NFL administers to draft hopefuls.

KWICKIES…The Lamar baseball team had a rough time at San Marcos last weekend as they were swept in a three-game series by Texas State. The Cards (15-7 and 2-7 in the Southland Conference) failed to hold the lead again and lost 8-7 Friday, were crushed 12-1 Saturday and sent ace pitcher Eric Harrington out Sunday but failed to salvage the series, losing 5-2 for his first mound setback. Things didn’t get much better for the Big Red, who hosted powerful Rice Tuesday at Vincent-Beck Field in Beaumont.

The Dallas Cowboys have been extremely quiet so far in the free agent marketplace. They haven’t added anybody and haven’t lost anybody. The Pokes planned for the uncapped year in advance by signing important players to long-term contracts.

The Cincinnati Bengals’ magpie wide receiver Chad Ochocinco seems to be a hit on the TV show “Dancing With The Stars.” He also reportedly will date 85 women this summer on a VH1 show currently titled “The Tournament,” set to premiere in July.

Randy Crouch, who is in his second year as head football coach of the Little Cypress-Mauriceville Battlin’ Bears, has opted not to have spring football practice because so many of his football players are involved in other sports this spring. Crouch added that he would rather start practicing a week earlier in the fall, which a team that skips spring football practice is able to do, according to the University Interscholastic League.

Mikhail Prokhorov, reportedly the richest man in Russia, has been given clearance by the National Basketball Association to purchase the floundering New Jersey Nets. Prokhorov plans to move the team to Brooklyn which has one of the largest Russian-American populations in the country. He reportedly is worth $17 billion.

There’s been plenty of excitement around the Chasse Ridge addition off FM1130 the past couple of weeks about a beautiful rooster that nobody seems to own. He’s been crowing his head off all day long, but has cleverly eluded the pair of animal control officers that have chased him on occasion. It seems as if most residents are rooting for the rooster to elude his captors.

This week’s edition of The Sporting News Magazine ranks the top 25 collegiate quarterbacks for the 2010 season. Not surprisingly, the Lone Star State has three in the top 10. The rankings are 1. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas 2. Kellen Moore, Boise State 3. Jake Locker, Washington 4. CASE KEENUM, HOUSTON 5. JERROD JOHNSON, TEXAS A&M 6. Christian Ponder, Florida State 7. Andrew Luck, Stanford 8. Blaine Gabbert,  Missouri 9. ROBERT GRIFFIN, BAYLOR 10. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State.

JUST BETWEEN US…Who would’ve thought only one No. 1-seeded team would make the Final Four? Fortunately it was this Korner’s pick to win the national championship—the Duke Blue Devils. Duke is a 2 1/2-point favorite and will be tested Saturday by second-seeded West Virginia while a pair of No. 5’s—surprising Butler and Michigan State also battle in the semifinals Saturday evening in a game that is picked even.  Duke was an 8-1 pre-tournament pick to win the national championship and currently is 3-2; West Virginia was 10-1 and is 9-5 this week, Michigan State was 25-1 and currently 3-1 while Butler was 80-1 before the tourney and 3-1 today. We still like Duke to win it all!!!