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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Now it’s time to play the waiting game

    Former Arizona wide out Mike Thomas tries to evade ASUs Rodney Cox during a 31-10 UA win on Dec. 6 at Arizona Stadium. Thomas and former UA left tackle Eben Britton will likely be selected in this weekends NFL Draft.
    Former Arizona wide out Mike Thomas tries to evade ASU’s Rodney Cox during a 31-10 UA win on Dec. 6 at Arizona Stadium. Thomas and former UA left tackle Eben Britton will likely be selected in this weekend’s NFL Draft.

    To make it to the NFL is a dream almost every boy across the country shares, yet few ever succeed. For two former Arizona Wildcats, those dreams are about to come true.

    Offensive tackle Eben Britton and wide receiver Mike Thomas – arguably two of the best players to ever don a Wildcat uniform – will be wearing a different jersey by the end of the weekend: an NFL jersey.

    Since the Las Vegas Bowl victory in December, Britton and Thomas have been taking part in the grueling transition from college to the pros. Endless days of training, interviews and workouts are enough to drain the life out of players, but the end result makes it all worth it.

    “”It’s been the longest four months of my life,”” Britton said. “”This whole process has been so tiresome, but it’s exciting to know that it’s finally coming to an end.””

    Britton – a junior – is part of an extremely talented crop of tackles that, entering the draft, could have as many as five taken in the first round. ESPN draft expert Todd McShay projects that the lineman from Burbank, Calif., will go to the Buffalo Bills as the No. 28 overall selection.

    It is very possible, though, that Britton could go higher than that because of his versatility and he could be inserted as a starter by opening day.

    “”It doesn’t matter what position I play,”” Britton said. “”Whether it’s tackle or guard, right side or left side, I’m going to go to whatever team drafts me and give it my best shot every day.””

    Despite NFL Draft coverage dominating the sporting news wires for weeks, Britton has managed to stay out of the media hoopla and stay focused on the task at hand.

    “”Todd McShay isn’t in any draft rooms calling the shots, so what (draft analysts) say doesn’t really matter,”” said Britton, who will be finding out his draft fate at Sam Hughes’ Championship Dining with his friends and family. “”It’s good to see that I’m up there in the first round, that’s exciting, but I don’t put too much into all that stuff.””

    Britton has the size (6-foot-6, 310 pounds), the athleticism and the attitude to fit in and make an immediate impact on whatever team drafts him.

    “”It really doesn’t matter (what team drafts me). For me, it’s just wherever I get a chance to play,”” Britton said. “”There’s going to be a good and a bad to every situation, so you have to make due because being a professional now, it’s a business and you have to go to work no matter where you are.””

    One of the things that helped Britton get through the draft process was keeping in contact with Antoine Cason, a former Wildcat cornerback who was selected in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft.

    “”Basically I’ve been telling him that you have to do the things that you can do to control what can happen,”” Cason said. “”No one can control who picks who, let the process happen and prepare yourself to where you can leave no doubts on where you go.

    “”I was out there working for a month and a half, and to see (Arizona’s draft prospects) working and preparing themselves for what’s coming – it’s great,”” Cason added. “”They’ve been doing a good job, and I’m excited to see them doing well and having fun.””

    Cason can also attest to the talent of Mike Thomas. The all-time receptions leader in the Pacific 10 Conference had a spectacular career at Arizona, but because of his relatively diminutive height (5-foot-8) he will likely fall to the third round.

    “”He’s a great player with a lot of great attributes that will transfer over to an NFL receiver,”” Cason said of Thomas. “”People always talk about ‘height this’ and ‘height that,’ but it doesn’t matter how they view prototypical things. It comes down to football players making plays, and Mike’s made a hell of a lot of plays.””

    Some media members are starting to see that side of Thomas, including ESPN The Magazine’s Bruce Feldman, who went as far as to rank Thomas as the most underrated player in the entire draft.

    “”That’s great,”” a flattered Thomas said of the ranking. “”I know people think I’m underrated because of my size, but with the potential that I have, I’m glad people are taking notice.””

    What people fail to realize is that although Thomas is short, he isn’t small. As a matter of fact, with 195 pounds of pure muscle, he’s pretty big.

    What makes Thomas a potential second to third round pick, though, is his athleticism. The receiver from DeSoto, Texas dazzled scouts at the NFL Combine, recording a 40.5″” vertical jump, a 6.65-second 3-cone-drill and a 4.40 40-yard dash – finishing in the top five among wide receivers in each category.

    “”I always knew that I could play with the best of ’em,”” Thomas said. “”It was just a matter of me putting the work in.””

    McShay projects Thomas to be the second and final Wildcat to come off the board this weekend, going in the third round to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    “”You don’t know what’s going to happen,”” Thomas said of draft projections. “”There are always variations and picks going ways that you didn’t expect. I think the (third round projection) is accurate, but I don’t listen to them.””

    Thomas, who will be watching the draft unfold with his family at home, is a perfect fit for teams looking for an experienced game-changer who can make an impact immediately, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Indianapolis Colts.

    But Thomas will take a roster spot wherever he can get it.

    “”A lot of emotions, but overall I’m excited and happy,”” he said. “”I had to work hard to get where I’m at, and I’m blessed.””

    Tuitama Watch

    Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama will forever be remembered as one of the most storied players in the history of Arizona football. The signal caller was the face of the program throughout his career, and he was the driving force behind the Wildcats’ first bowl victory in a decade.

    But if there’s one thing that Britton and Thomas stressed about the NFL process, it’s that football becomes a business.

    Unfortunately for Tuitama, it’s cutthroat.

    Arizona’s all-time leader in passing yards and total offense has seen his beaming stardom in Tucson dwindle down to a faint twinkle in the NFL, and the road ahead has a lot of obstacles in the way.

    When compared to other QBs in the draft, Tuitama doesn’t have the arm strength or the accuracy that others do. Combine that with his recent off-field troubles and the odds of Tuitama being drafted are slim.

    Even though he likely won’t be drafted, Tuitama could receive a training camp invite as an undrafted free agent.

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