Hearing your name called during the NFL Draft would mean a great deal to any player at any position from anywhere in the country. But when Indiana tight end and Baltimore native Ian Thomas (Digital Harbor) hears his named called in the 2018 NFL Draft it's hard to fathom it won't mean so much more.
Thomas is expected to be a mid-round selection after a solid senior season that saw him record five touchdown catches for the Hoosiers (including two against mighty Ohio State). More importantly, his combination of speed and size makes him a fascinating target for general managers throughout the league. In a
Glenn Clark Radio
interview Jan. 30, Thomas said he was measured at 6-foot-3 (well, actually, 6-foot-3 and three quarters) during Senior Bowl festivities and he's expecting to run in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
There's almost no doubt he's going to get the opportunity to prove what he can do at the next level. Considering where he and his family have come from, "incredible" wouldn't seem to do justice to the significance of the opportunity.
"It will mean a lot because we didn't always have the best growing up, and we had to make the best of our situation," Thomas said. "To have them actually know that I made it far in my career would be great. If I could support them -- if only a little bit -- that would be great, too."
Both of Ian Thomas' parents
died before his 10th birthday
. His mother (Martha) died of kidney and liver failure (stemming from an abscessed tooth) on his 8th birthday. His father (Earl) died roughly a year later from a heart attack. From that point forward, he was raised by older siblings in a rough part of the city and did not have much money to get by.
His path would take him from Digital Harbor to Nassau Community College in New York (he didn't have the grades to qualify at Towson) before ultimately leading him to Indiana. Yet despite such extreme difficulty in his life circumstances, Thomas doesn't view his path as being that different than anyone else's.
"It's just another test, really," Thomas said. "Everyone goes through things. Maybe I just ran into my problems a little earlier than everyone else. It definitely prepared me to push through things, things that aren't going my way. It definitely prepared me a lot."
Now Thomas is trying to do what less than 50 other Baltimoreans have done this decade and reach the next level. He's happy to carry the flag for the city during the process.
"I feel like Baltimore is definitely overlooked for sports and athletes overall, so if I can change that a little bit it would be great," Thomas said. "It's always a negative connotation with Baltimore because of the inner city. Everything's not all good there. People tend to look past [us], but I guess you have to make the best of what you have. If I could kind of change that visualization that would be great."
Even rarer still is for a native Baltimorean to get an opportunity to play professionally in his hometown. Linebacker Tommy Polley (Dunbar) finished his career with the Ravens, wide receiver/special teams ace LaQuan Williams (Poly) won a Super Bowl XLVII championship ring during his time in Baltimore, and while running back Terrance West (Northwestern) was technically born in Florida, he grew up in Baltimore and is still on the roster. But those are the exceptions.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is of course a Hall of Fame tight end himself and never seems to have enough players at the position for his liking. Given the team's dire need for offensive playmakers, the possibility of selecting the Baltimore native seems at least somewhat real. That possibility is significant to Thomas for reasons that go far beyond just where he was born or who he might have rooted for growing up.
"It would mean so much because growing up in Baltimore, we didn't have much," Thomas said. "When the Ravens did those things for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we always were there getting turkeys. Those Ravens players were always an impact on our lives, and those are the guys that we looked up to as a family and me as a player. So if I can go to Baltimore that would be a blessing and a dream come true."
This is the type of stuff that's almost too unbelievable for a movie script.
Thomas sighted Ravens players such as safety Lardarius Webb, former linebacker Ray Lewis, former running back Ray Rice and current Detroit Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as players who had an impact on him and his family during those charity events in his childhood.
Some players believe that getting away from their hometown could be helpful when starting their career. The fear of hangers-on and distractions can sometimes lead to the desire to get away. That isn't the case for Thomas.
"I don't think that would be a problem at all," Thomas said. "I'm really close-knit with my family, so I don't think there would be any extra [people] clinging on."
Thomas will have more opportunities to impress Newsome and 31 other general managers in the coming months during interviews and team visits. He hopes to sell them on not only his football abilities but also the quality of his character.
"The thing that I really wish they'd take away is that I'm a great guy and a great worker," Thomas said. "Anyone can say that, but I want my work to speak for itself. If I can have that personality trait that goes along with it that would be wonderful."
For more from Thomas, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Indiana Athletics