Safety Chinedum Ndukwe was not selected until the seventh round, but he quickly became a starter for the Cincinnati Bengals. Why, Thomas is asked, do so many Notre Dame players wait until they get to the NFL to be great?
"I don't know," he answers. "You know, Zbikowski and I have talked about that and said, 'Man, we just played with these guys last year and look what they are doing now.' I don't know why we can't do that next year."
Finding his place
If Thomas does catch on with an NFL squad, where would he play? Although he played both linebacker and running back at Notre Dame, his agent, Chris Schuering, believes that NFL scouts want to see the six-foot, 220-pounder work out at strong safety. "But Travis' best chance to catch a coach's eye at first will be on special teams," says Schuering, himself a Notre Dame alum. "That's the extra value he can provide."
Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis agrees. "I told Travis that he's best suited to compete in the NFL as a backup running back who could play on special teams," says Weis, who spent more than a decade evaluating college talent as an NFL assistant coach. "And because he played on offense, defense and special teams, he has more ways to create an opportunity for himself, to create a niche."
Anything is possible when it comes to Domers in the NFL, it seems. Arnaz Battle and Carlyle Holiday were both Irish starting quarterbacks who were demoted in South Bend. Both are now NFL wide receivers. Battle led the San Francisco 49ers wide receivers in catches last season with 50.
Darius Walker, like Grant, was not selected in the NFL draft. He was released twice by the Houston Texans before they activated him in November. But Walker wound up starting the team's final two games and even had Houston's longest run from scrimmage, a 41-yarder.
"Darius' experience with Houston taught me this is a cutthroat experience," Thomas says. "He got cut but he got a break, got back on the roster, and there he was starting at the end of the season. That gives me the confidence to say, 'If he's doing it, why can't I?'"
Grant. Walker. Julius Jones. All three NFL backs overlapped Thomas during his five years in South Bend. Bob Christian, one of his two trainers at Northwestern, is another living inspiration. A fullback on a bad college team, Christian was a 12th-round draft pick in 1992 -- and he played ten seasons in the NFL.
"I don't have any motivational quotes or anything hanging in my room," says Thomas, speaking two days after the Super Bowl. "I'm motivated internally. Look at (former teammate) Justin Tuck. I called him last night. If New York hadn't needed that last drive to win, Justin may have been named the Super Bowl MVP. That blows my mind.
"And the success Ryan Grant had this past year?" he says. "That makes me feel like, hey, I can have a shot at this. I can be successful, too."
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