Every player that enters the NFL dreams of playing in the Super Bowl. As is the case in any profession, young people aspire to be the best, to reach the highest pinnacle, and to reap the benefits of the glory and fame that come with those accomplishments.
Julius Thomas was no different. But it didn’t start out that way.
Drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL draft, Thomas made the final roster, but suffered through various injuries throughout his first two years in the league, and as he entered his third year with the team, he could boast of two-year totals of one measly catch for five yards, including no catches in his first season with quarterback Peyton Manning at the reins.
In Thomas’s defense, the Broncos didn’t utilize the tight end much in Manning’s first year with the team, as the leading receiver from that position was Virgil Green, who tallied 22 catches on the year.
But then Adam Gase came along.
Gase, now the head coach of the Dolphins, was the offensive coordinator for the Broncos in 2013 and 2014, and in those two years, the team utilized the tight end.
And Thomas was the immediate beneficiary of that change, totaling 108 catches for 1,277 yards and 24 touchdowns in those two seasons, and catching four passes in Super Bowl XLVIII, which unfortunately was a loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Thomas then rode that fame and glory to a rich contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars that paid him among the best at his position. But the statistics didn’t follow, as Thomas struggled with production and injuries, and he was traded to the Dolphins in March, to be reunited with his former coach.
Thomas hold no grudges against his time in Jacksonville, stating simply that, "Sometimes things just don't work out.”
“I don't have any ill-will towards anybody in Jacksonville," Thomas continued. “I like everybody there. We all got along great. But not everything always fits. It just wasn't a fit for me. It's definitely appreciated, the opportunity they gave me, and the people that I met, and the things that I learned in Jacksonville. I'll take that on to still become a better player every year."
Playing for a struggling team, and experiencing struggles of his own, Thomas kept things in perspective.
"I think that sometimes you get the impression that your success on the field defines who you are as a person, and how well you're living your life,” said Thomas. “That's really not the case. As you get older, you start to realize that when you're 25, 26, having amazing stats and you're playing in Super Bowls and stuff, it's really easy to just be focused on your game and not the kind of person you're being, the relationships with your friends and family.”
Thomas turned inward during that time, and he attributes his relationship with God to giving him the opportunity to reflect on the things he needed in life, stating, “God showed me some things I needed in my life and I'm definitely going to continue that moving forward."
Adam Gase has made it abundantly clear that Thomas is expected to be a big contributor on offense for the Dolphins this year, and Thomas welcomes that challenge. He’ll be returning to an offense he’s familiar with, one that contributed directly to the best years of his career.
But whether those aspirations come to fruition or not, Thomas isn’t worried, as he feel his newfound maturity has him positioned for success in life, regardless of his exploits on the field.
"I became a much better person the last two years. To have some struggles on the field really helped me grow as a person, mentally and in my own personal life. I'm not upset by the way things happened.
“Sometimes the best way to learn is when you're going through things.”
This story was written by Eldon Jenson. Follow him on Twitter @EJFootball
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