ATLANTA — The exact moment escapes Demaryius Thomas’ recollection, but he will always remember the impact the emotional occasion provided him.
“When I was a little boy, I always told my mom that I’d go pro,” Thomas said Friday from a news conference room at Georgia Tech. “Ever since then, it was a mind-set of me going pro.”
Apparently that dedication will pay off.
In an announcement before members of the media and members of his family, the Yellow Jackets receiver said Friday afternoon that he officially planned to take his final step toward playing professional football by forgoing his senior season at Georgia Tech and entering the NFL draft.
One of four highly decorated juniors in the program, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound receiver said that he and his family believed that the timing was perfect for him to act now upon his longtime dream.
“It was tough,” Thomas said, “but it was the decision to make.”
He also emphasized that the decision was his alone. It was not impacted by similar decisions that still await star B-back Jonathan Dwyer, defensive end Derrick Morgan and safety Morgan Burnett.
“I was just doing this for myself. I don’t know what nobody else is doing,” Thomas said. “This is a family thing.”
The entire process was so family driven that Thomas — nicknamed “BeBe” by family, teammates and friends — turned straight to his uncle James Brown when he was ready to reveal his final decision to Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson.
Admittedly nervous of informing Johnson about his selection to leave rather than stay, Thomas said he asked Brown to contact the man who has called plays for him the past two seasons.
“So I picked up the phone and called Coach Johnson and rightfully so,” Brown said after the news conference. “Coach Johnson has been instrumental in what happened here, and he was a good coach, and he worked well with BeBe and got him to the point where he’s at now.
“Without coaching — you can have the talent — but if you don’t have the coaching to make you use what you’ve got, then you might as well not use anything. Coach Johnson played an important part in developing him into the (player) he is to this day.”
Hauling in 46 passes for an ACC-leading 1,154 yards, Thomas caught eight touchdown passes this season. Averaging 25.1 yards per reception, he was named to the All-ACC team and has put himself in position to be highly favored in the draft.
Thomas said his choice was largely impacted by evaluations league insiders provided him following the ACC championship in early December. After watching his dominating play this season, as well as what he has done the past two as a member of Johnson’s spread option offense, they predicted he might be an easy second-round selection.
Of the facets of his game Thomas hopes to hone in time for combine and training sessions in the coming weeks are certain essential fundamentals.
“Blocking is my main thing,” Thomas said. “Then, working on my speed and my route running.”
In Johnson’s run-based scheme that very rarely threw to a receiver other than Thomas, receivers aren’t called upon running routes quite as consistently as those in other offenses. Much of the time, they are asked instead to streak down the field for long pass receptions, or to take a screen pass with the expectation of breaking it for a long run after the catch.
Lack of route running aside, Thomas’ knack for making a significant number of receptions in Johnson’s offense has helped cast naysayers of the system aside.
When Johnson originally arrived to Georgia Tech just more than two years ago from Navy, he had to fight the criticisms many had about his offense. He had to convince Thomas to reject their statements and realize that the passes would come his way.
“He gave it a chance,” Johnson said of Thomas. “Fortunately, he’s got a lot of ability, and he made a lot of big plays for us. He was a big part of our success the past two years. He laid the foundation and proved the point that you could be successful as a wide receiver doing what we do and have some pretty impressive numbers.
“So I’m indebted to him. He’s done a lot for us and a lot for Georgia Tech.”
After stints at Georgia Southern, and Navy, Johnson never had to worry about players bolting early for the professional ranks. Thomas’ departure as a junior is Johnson’s first.
Of the things the coach said he will miss most about Thomas, will be getting used to not hearing the big-bodied receiver crack jokes in practice. Other players have often said that Thomas was the only one who was actually bold enough to routinely teasingly banter back-and-forth with Johnson.
“We had a good relationship. We could joke and have some fun,” Johnson said. “The thing about BeBe, he’d always work. He was a worker. He set a good example for guys that way. He’s got a great personality, he’s a fun guy to be around. Hopefully we’ll still see him. It’s not like he’s shipped to another continent. We expect to see him around.”
Since returning from Miami earlier this week — the site of Georgia Tech’s 24-14 loss to Iowa in the Orange Bowl — Thomas has been seen often around Dublin and surrounding areas.
A native of Montrose, Thomas has been a bit of a celebrity whenever he returns to Laurens County. While touring a mall Thursday with members of his family, Thomas was approached for autographs, his cousin Angela Spencer said.
In addition to Spencer and Brown, Thomas was joined Friday by his aunt, Sherlie Brown, and his father, Sgt. 1st Class Bobby Thomas. Although routinely stationed in other parts of the country or overseas, Bobby Thomas said he was able to be based in Georgia during this past season. He attended each of his son’s games.
For Brown, his nephew’s achievement at Georgia Tech — Demaryius Thomas is still two semesters short of graduating and will be attending school this coming semester — makes him proud to be a Middle Georgian.
“Coming out of Laurens County, everyone in the area has been real supportive of him,” James Brown said. “And you can imagine how hard it is to be an athlete and a student at Georgia Tech. (But) he promised me and the entire family that he will get his degree and I feel confident that he will, because he usually does what he says.”
As a child, Thomas said he wanted to play professional football. He is now one big step closer to having done that, too.