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Former Portland State forward Julius Thomas enjoys a career night in Denver

Sep 6, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT

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In four seasons of college basketball at Portland State, 6-5 forward Julius Thomas averaged 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest, and in his final two seasons helped the Vikings earn back-to-back Big Sky tournament titles. But the market for a 6-5 forward isn’t all that great when it comes to professional basketball, and even with that being the case there was a sense that Thomas would be more comfortable on the gridiron according to the Associated Press.

So he made the decision to join the Portland State football team in the spring of 2010, and the decision paid off immediately as Thomas earned first-team All-Big Sky honors. The Denver Broncos would select Thomas in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, taking a flier on a player who displayed the athleticism that’s allowed a few other college basketball players to make the move to the football field at the tight end position.

In two seasons as a Bronco Thomas struggled with injuries, accounting for just one reception as a result. With Thomas finally at full strength entering training camp there were higher expectations, and on Thursday night the tight end put forth an outstanding performance. Thomas finished Denver’s 49-24 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens with five catches for 110 yards and two touchdown receptions.

But for as stunning as Thomas’ performance was to those who weren’t familiar with him the same can’t be said for his teammates, most notably quarterback Peyton Manning.

“We’ve had some injuries at tight end and Julius Thomas is a guy that I’m sure not many people know about but he has taken advantage of the repetitions he’s received with the first team,” Manning said. “He’s an athlete, he’s a big guy that can really run and he really is taking advantage of the time with the starters and has made the most of it. I think he’ll play a big role for our team this year.”

With the possibility of making the move from the court to the football field being there for some players, including Kansas City Chiefs practice squad member Demetrius Harris, Thomas’ successful night should be a source of motivation. And it’s also an example of how difficult the transition can be, especially when battling injuries in addition to learning the nuances of the position.

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