Ever since Orange’s Earl Thomas played in what proved to be his final college football game in early January and declared that he was going to become eligible for the NFL draft, he’s been preparing for that giant leap to the next level of the sport.

Well, that time has arrived. This is the week of the 2010 National Football League draft with the all-important first round set Thursday, the second and third rounds are Friday with rounds four through seven concluding Saturday.

Most of the college scouting publications and draft gurus have predicted that Thomas’ phone will ring on Thursday with the great news that he has been selected in the first round of the draft.

The former West Orange-Stark Mustang all-stater made the transition to the next level of college football rather easily, thanks to his work ethic and the great demands he put on himself to be the best that he can be.

He got bounced around during his first year at the University of Texas on the scout team as a redshirt. And he put to good use this valuable learning process as he displayed these new skills during the spring drills of 2008 where he worked himself into a starting position for the fall season.

As a redshirt freshman, he learned the safety position so well that he was voted to the Freshman All-American team.

Big things were expected of the 2009 Texas Longhorns and of sophomore safety Earl Thomas and he exceeded all expectations by intercepting eight enemy passes–which was second in the nation and set a Texas Longhorn single-season record. He returned two of those picks for touchdowns in addition to breaking up 16 passes and making 71 tackles.

The consistent play of Thomas helped keep the Longhorns undefeated throughout the regular season and got the attention of the pollsters who judge the best-of-the-best and selected Earl as first team All-America.

His stock continued to soar after Earl announced he was leaving Texas for the NFL draft. He was ranked by the pro scouts in the top 20 players in this year’s draft and then continued to want to sharpen his skills on the West Coast preparing for the NFL’s annual scouting combine at Indianapolis last month.
At the combine Thomas demonstrated his speed, agility, quickness and physical strength that impressed the scouts, NFL coaches and general managers. His ranking among the other draftees continued to climb with Scouts Inc. ranking him as the No. 7 best prospect in this week’s draft.

ESPN’s Todd McShay commented that Earl’s versatility in coverage separates him from most of the other safeties and cornerbacks in this year’s draft. “His instincts and football skills make Thomas such a complete safety,” McShay concluded. “He is not that far behind Tennessee’s Eric Berry, who has been rated a couple of notches higher than Thomas.”

Earl was recently interviewed by Jay Crawford of ESPN’s First Take and asked if he had a preference as to which team he’d like to play for. “I want to play for the team that drafts me,” Thomas replied. “I’d rather go as high as I can go in the draft.”
Crawford asked if being from Texas would make him lean toward the Houston Texans or the Dallas Cowboys, who both are in need of a safety. “No, I still would rather go as high as possible in the draft,” Thomas continued, “but I liked the Cowboys when I was growing up.”

The subject drifted to Thomas’ talent of being able to play four different musical instruments. “We heard that you even played during halftime with your high school band. How did you do that?” he was asked.

“That was during my freshman year at West Orange-Stark,” Thomas answered. “I played tenor sax and took my shoulder pads and jersey off and marched dressed with my band jacket, football pants and cleats on.” Thomas also played in a band called “Bad Bones” in Austin.

After the scouting combine Thomas met individually with several NFL teams, talking with an organization’s head coach, position coach, coordinator, general manager and sometimes even the team’s owner. He met with the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and a few others.

According to a recent edition of ESPN The Magazine, sometimes these publicized meetings with a potential No. 1 draft pick are done to fool some of the other organizations into thinking that player was at the top of their wish list.
There is a lot of jockeying going on within each organization as to which player they really need and want, and which players probably will be available whenever they are on the clock to make their pick.

More times than not most teams don’t land the one player they’ve targeted in the first round and take the best player available at the time of their pick.

Let’s hope that for one of these teams this best player on Thursday is Earl Thomas.

KWICKIES…Don’t look now, but the Houston Astros returned home from a six-game road trip with a 3-3 record and a two-game winning streak. Manager Brad Mills is finding some of the bad apples in the barrel, like relief pitcher Brandon Lyon, who throws gasoline on every rally he attempts to quell, and Kazuo Matsui, who can’t hit either left-handed or right-handed, and is not letting them hurt a winning effort. The Astros returned to Minute Maid Park Tuesday for a nine-game home stand against relatively weaker teams than they’ve played so far in accruing their paltry 3-9 record, hosting the Florida Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates for three games each, enjoying an off-day Monday and ending the home stand with three games against the Cincinnati Reds. Slugging first baseman Lance Berkman was scheduled to rejoin the team for the first time this season, after spending the first two weeks of the season on the disabled list.

And while on the subject of winning baseball, the Lamar Cardinals jumped back into the Southland Conference playoff picture by sweeping Sam Houston State in their three-game series last weekend at Vincent-Beck Field in Beaumont. The Redbirds won the series opener Friday 5-2, blanked the Bearkats 4-0 behind sophomore Eric Harrington’s six hit shutout and came back from an early 7-1 deficit to steamroll the visitors from Huntsville 14-7 Sunday. The three-game sweep evens the Cards’ record at 9-9 in the SLC and 23-15 for the season.
Lamar hosts the University of Houston Wednesday at Vincent-Beck before traveling to play Texas-San Antonio for a three-game SLC weekend series starting on Friday.

The NBA playoffs began last weekend with first-game winners in the best-of-seven series being Cleveland over Chicago 96-83; Atlanta 102, Milwaukee 92; Boston 85, Miami 76; Denver 126, Utah 113; LA Lakers 87, Oklahoma City 79; Orlando 98, Charlotte 89; Dallas 100, San Antonio 94 and Portland 104, Phoenix 100. All of the favored home teams won except for Phoenix.

JUST BETWEEN US…Besides Earl Thomas expected to be a first-round draft pick in this week’s NFL draft, two other Southeast Texas high school all-staters and collegiate stars that should be drafted are Jasper’s Sean Weatherspoon, who was an All-American middle linebacker at Missouri and Thomas’ West Orange-Stark and Texas Longhorn teammate Kenneth Deon Beasley.

Weatherspoon is expected to be a first or second round pick while Beasley could go in a later round or sign after the draft as a free agent.