Lions WR Devin Thomas is Still Making the Spartan Nation Proud!

As the Aaron Hernandez saga and the MLB’s Biogenesis scandal circulate among the media, many question the ethics of professional athletes. Countless fans have become disillusioned. Amidst all the controversy stands one man who has remained humble and kind despite a successful NFL career and the big paychecks that come with it. That man is former Michigan State wide receiver Devin Thomas.

A transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, Thomas had to earn playing time at MSU. He only saw a handful of passes thrown his way in his first season in East Lansing, as Thomas had just six receptions and 90 yards during his sophomore campaign. The fall of 2007 was a different story. With the arrival of Mark Dantonio and the promotion of Brian Hoyer to starting quarterback, Thomas excelled.

During his junior season, the wideout helped the Green and White to a 7-6 record and an appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl; though some Spartan fans might just remember Thomas as the shooting star who quickly broke a number of MSU receiving records. Thomas shattered single-season records for receptions (79), all-purpose yards (2,590), and 100-yard receiving games (seven). But Thomas is so much more than his outstanding on-field performances and his impact on the record books. Not only a loving husband and father, but also a humble man, Devin Thomas is a perfect role model for any young man looking to become a true Spartan.

Though his journey has had a happy outcome thus far, the road has not always been kind to Thomas. He has been forced to overcome limited playing time, off the field temptations, and many other types of adversity that life hands us. But through it all, Thomas has remained the same man: a positive and caring person.

Deciding to forgo his senior year at Michigan State in order to support his new family, Thomas’ post-MSU journey began at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. On April 26, 2008, Devin Thomas became the 34th overall selection of the 2008 NFL Draft, joining the Washington Redskins organization. Washington’s first selection of the draft and only the second wide receiver to go off the board, Thomas entered the league with high expectations.

Though the wideout posted respectable numbers when given playing time (35 receptions for 445 yards and three touchdowns), the Redskins opted to let Thomas go midway through the 2010 season. The Panthers pounced on Thomas, signing him soon after his release. But Carolina would not be a permanent home for Thomas, as the team decided to cut the former second round draft choice only a few weeks later. The Giants would give Thomas a more realistic chance, and the dynamic player would not disappoint.

After appearing in four games for New York at the tail end of the 2010 season, Thomas was given the chance to return kicks and serve on the punt coverage unit for the Giants in 2011. He performed his role admirably. Thomas made critical plays in crunch time during the team’s playoff run, helping the Giants snag a narrow 21-17 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

Despite providing key plays along the way, Thomas was not signed by the Giants after the 2011 season. The Bears took a flier on the three-year vet, but Thomas decided to retire before the start of the 2012 season. His retirement would prove short.

As the playoffs raged on in January, the Lions – Thomas’ hometown team – chose to sign him. Now as the 2013 regular season quickly approaches, the Ann Arbor native is preparing to help his boyhood team reach the Promised Land.

The former great Michigan State wideout, and better man, Devin Thomas, recently joined Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. on Spartan Nation Radio to talk about football, family and much more.

Thomas will never forget his happy time in East Lansing. No matter where he goes, Thomas will forever remain a Spartan. But now that he has returned to his home state and signed a contract with the Lions, the experienced wide receiver is happier than ever. “Words can’t describe the blessing of coming home to play. Just being able to be with the same team you root for your whole life, [it’s] a dream come true,” he said. “Every day I really thank the Lord that I’m able to play with the Lions, and I look forward to training camp.”

One teammate that Thomas is thankful to have is Calvin Johnson. The four-year pro admires “Megatron” for a number of reasons. “The way he attacks practice every day. The communication…of how to make a play, how to adjust your hands, just the little things that you have to remind yourself as a receiver that he does every play, really,” Thomas said. “Knowing that he had three broken fingers during the season, showing his endurance of fighting through pain. He’s the type of guy that you would love to have for your team. He’s a humble, down-to-earth guy.”

With Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford at the helm, the Lions boast an explosive offense to go with a developing defense. Following a solid draft and a couple of good free agent signings, the Lions could be close to contention. Thomas would certainly love to deliver the state of Michigan not only a playoff berth, but a Super Bowl championship. “This is what the city needs, man. If we could win one, I couldn’t imagine what Michigan would be like,” Thomas said. “Our team is spectacular with talent. I feel like the coaches are doing a good job leading us in the right direction. So if I could just be a part of this and bring something back home, that would be the best feeling in my life.”

Thomas could give the Lions some great guidance along the path, as the 26-year old has been to the big game once already. A member of the 2011 Giants team that took down the juggernaut Patriots, Thomas looks back fondly on the glorious feeling of victory. But he does not dwell on the memory. “I actually have the ring put up and I don’t really look at it anymore,” Thomas said of his hard-earned Super Bowl ring. “It was a building block and something I cherish at all times… [But] I’m still playing the game. That one championship is always going to be there and a part of me. Now let’s get another one, let’s get it to where I can get another one with the hometown. That would be the best.”

Though not one to dwell on the past, Thomas does have an interesting story. Before latching on with the Lions, Thomas had stints with the Redskins, Panthers, and Giants. He has caught passes, handled return duties, and served as a gunner on punt coverage. Thomas’s highs, including critical plays in the 2011 NFC Playoffs, have given him some notoriety. Learning how to cope with the fame and all those who come out of the woodwork asking for a helping hand was an important lesson for Thomas.

“You kind of have to learn as you deal with it. At first you’re so open to helping everybody or feeling like everybody’s there that needs your help, but sometimes you start to realize that some people define help in different ways. It goes with experience,” Thomas said. “You go from having money to ideas of wisdom of how to get people help with experience. That’s more so now for me. Whether it’s my time or my work, I like to give back more than anything because I feel like it carries a little bit more weight, but sometimes just handing over some money to somebody just because they’ve got an open hand.”

To go along with the good times, Thomas has had some tough times. He didn’t play in the league in 2012 after the Bears let him go prior to the start of the season. But through it all, Thomas has managed to stay upbeat. “I think there’s really no secret…that I’m a positive person. That’s something to do with my nature. It kind of just deals with the universe. I put out positive things, I try to look on the brighter side of things. No matter what the circumstances, whether it’s good times or bad times, find a way through it,” Thomas said of his philosophy. “That’s the way life is…Now that I’m older I’m just kind of more relaxed.”

Becoming a father certainly changed Thomas’ outlook on life, too. “It’s definitely changed the priorities, switching from yourself to somebody that needs you,” Thomas explained. “You kind of go through things sometimes before you had kids where everything is all about you and planning your own future. But having kids, it’s somebody else’s future besides your own. It put things in perspective for me.”

Few taught Thomas more about how to be a father than Mark Dantonio. The two had much more than a player-coach relationship, as the veteran MSU head coach mentored Thomas at a key point of his life. “I feel like he treated me like a young man. I think as any kid coming into a program or being in a program…you’re young, you’re feeling confident about yourself but you’re not, in a sense, with your immediate family. You’re making a new family. With him coming in as head coach he definitely took a role to me like a father,” Thomas said. “I respected him and he showed me respect as a young man and I just want to do my best for him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come back for my senior year. I decided to make a move based on the fact of me becoming a father myself. It’s one of those bittersweet situations. Because he’s a great coach but he’s somebody you can always go back and talk to. He’s always got your best interest. I’ve got much love for Coach D.”

So what is next for Thomas now that he is back in his home state? “Right now I’m just kind of regrouping, getting a little R&R. I had a strong mini-camp. For me it’s just staying in conditioning, really,” Thomas said. “I keep a good strength about me. I’m pretty good in the weight room; I don’t need to touch that too much more. I’m pretty set. Probably get down to Miami in a week and start running out there on the beach a little bit, kind of soaking up the time I have before we have to put the pads on.”

A well-known wide receiver with a Super Bowl ring, Thomas has reason to be proud of his accomplishments. But the proud husband and father has remained ever-humble. A quintessential Spartan role model, Devin Thomas represents what is great about Michigan State, and the Spartan Nation would like to wish him the best in each and every one of his future endeavors.

Joe Ginley is the newest writer for the Spartan Nation website and magazine. He writes Spartans in the NFL and State of the Spartans among other articles. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Joe brings a great passion for sports and a great flexibility in writing skills.

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