by Connor Soudani
With football season over for the Whitworth Pirates and nearing its end across the country, college football fans are looking forward to postseason play and the NFL Draft. With a select few Division I players across the country getting ready for their chance to play professional football, Whitworth University now sends one of their own.
Senior Ronnie Thomas who played running back for the Pirates the last two years, prepares now for his shot at playing in the NFL.
“It’s been my lifelong dream since I started playing at seven years old,” Thomas said.
However, Thomas faces a challenge that nearly all players in Division III football face who try to get into the NFL: lack of publicity. According to Dave Dye of foxsports.com, with NFL scouts looking predominantly for NFL-caliber athletes at Division I schools, Division III players are generally implausible long shots when it comes to getting to the NFL. However there have been a select few Division III players that have made it to the big leagues in recent years, including Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts, Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker.
Working in Thomas’s favor though, are a number of influential factors. After choosing to attend junior college for two years right out of high school, Thomas transferred to Whitworth. Last year as a junior in 2011, Thomas was named first team All-NWC after leading the league in rushing yards (1044) and yards per carry (6.0). This year Thomas ran for 1239 yards and 4.52 yards per carry to lead the conference yet again. He has also recently hired an agent that will publicize his name among NFL scouts.
“If he gets to attend a pro day, he’ll have shot at showing what he can do,” Whitworth head football coach John Tully said. “I just hope somebody notices him.”
As Thomas looks for a shot at his dream, his goals remain simple.
“I don’t have any expectation, I just want to show a team that I have the skill and work ethic to make a roster,” Thomas said. “I’m being recruited as an athlete, so I could end up playing anything from slot receiver to kickoff team.”
His teammate, sophomore quarterback Bryan Peterson, retains a lot of confidence in Thomas.
“He’s going to put everything he has into it,” Peterson said. “He’s going to do his part to get there.”
In addition, as Tully mentioned, Thomas’s chances of getting noticed are a lot more likely than most people might think.
“It just takes one person to like him,” Tully said.
According to get2theleague.com, football players in NCAA Division III have a number of additional obstacles in front of them if they want to get picked on draft day.
- You must be invited to participate in one of the college all-star games
- Scouts have to visit you.
- You have to be invited to an FBS (D-1A) or FCS (D-1AA) school’s Pro Day.
- Your stats and measurables need to equal or surpass that of the big school prospects.
“The guys are going to be bigger, stronger and faster,” Peterson said. “But he has the burning desire to still do it and I completely respect him for that.”
With all of these additional things in mind, Thomas seems to be on the right track for an opportunity.
“I know I’m going to get bullied around a lot with a lot of guys trying to get in my head,” Thomas said. “But I’m just going to work as hard as I can.”
Contact Connor Soudani at firstname.lastname@example.org