As a videogame soundtrack blared in the background, Thomas DeCoud, one of the top five safeties in this year's NFL Draft, described the type of commercial ad he would create to promote himself.
“It would have to be funny. I have a great sense of humor, I must say,” he proclaimed after a moment of thought. “I would have to make people laugh. Maybe I’d make it look like a YouTube video.”
Growing up in Vallejo, Calif. as an only child, DeCoud spent many afternoons in front of the television. Soon, an infatuation with commercials developed. From this fixation came DeCoud’s career goal—he wanted to make commercials. Well, at least until football came into the picture.
His oldest football memory is from his first practice. Running around on the football field as a nine-or-ten-year-old, he was excited to be involved in the sport. After a full practice, he was hooked.
What made him love the sport?
“That’s easy,” DeCoud admits. “I liked how you could hit people and not get arrested for it.”
The U.C. Berkeley alum has enjoyed each step he has taken toward the NFL. One can trace DeCoud’s footsteps in various California cities—beginning in Vallejo, continuing on to Richmond (his last two high school years), ending up at U.C. Berkeley in 2003, at the trail's zenith.
The end of DeCoud's current journey leads to the beginning of a new one; on April 26-27, the weekend of the NFL Draft, Thomas DeCoud will know which NFL team will be the home of his rebirth.
From the time 23-year-old former University of California safety Thomas DeCoud found out he was athletically blessed, he wasn’t afraid to flaunt it.
Gino Deluna, a former classmate, recalls spending numerous elementary school recesses watching DeCoud perform impressive feats—at least impressive to the boys who would gather to watch.
Using the playground as his stage, he did not disappoint.
As the boys lined the sidelines of the basketball court of Glen Cove Elementary School in Vallejo, the confident DeCoud would put on a slam-dunking show for his eager classmates.
“We were all pretty excited,” Deluna explained. “We were just in the sixth grade and it was amazing to see someone our age dunk.”
DeCoud’s elementary school talents weren’t limited to the basketball court, however. Any chance he had, the future Cal Berkeley football player would show off his abilities. When recess was over, the students would walk back to class in a single-file line. Even during this routine DeCoud, the tallest sixth grader, found a way to awe his classmates.
“After recess, kids would do pull-ups on the classroom doorframe,” recalls Deluna. “Out of everyone, he would do the most.”
Although Deluna spoke about a sixth-grade DeCoud, his observation rings true today: “He was a phenomenal athlete.”
Once his mind was made up to seriously pursue a football career, DeCoud’s family was nothing but supportive. Present through every stage of his football progression, DeCoud credits his family for keeping him focused.
“My grandma and my dad—pretty much my entire immediate family—always supported me,” explains DeCoud. “With them, I know I always have someone in my corner. They’re always there.”
With the pressures of being on a Division-I football team on his shoulders from 2003 to 2007, there were moments where his motivation hit a few lows. As he fought for a spot on the Cal Bears team, his constant supporters never allowed him to lose sight of his goal.
“There were times in college when I needed some motivation,” he admits. “My friends and my family pushed me past some difficulties.”
Many football players become fully aware of the menacing six-foot-two Thomas DeCoud as he steps on the field. Donning the U.C. Berkeley blue and gold, the ever-present No. 4 is recognizable to fans and players because of his hard-nosed style of play.
Known as a big “hitter,” this tackling gem is not easy to ignore. In 2006, UCLA linebacker Korey Bosworth found this out first hand.
As Cal’s DeSean Jackson returned the UCLA punt in the third quarter, DeCoud was in on special teams. Jackson caught the ball and began to run it downfield. In need of a block, DeCoud flew in and hit the freshman linebacker—knocking both him and Bosworth unconscious.
Tense moments passed as both players lay motionless on the field. Shaken by the impact, they were slow to stand up. Concerned trainers ran on to the field to assist them. As DeCoud and Bosworth got to their feet, they were carefully guided.
Bosworth, however, wasn't held up as securely and tumbled back onto the ground, losing consciousness once again.
The stunning images of the hit and its aftermath gained notoriety on YouTube and with Internet bloggers. Soon his audience will expand as he stands atop the main stage of the NFL.
In the past few weeks, DeCoud has accepted invitations to meet with front office officials of a few NFL teams. More recently, he has met with the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. One would think that a prospective player would be nervous, but that’s not in his nature.
“There’s no need to be nervous," DeCoud explains. "I’ve been walked through the process. It’s kind of like a job interview. They’re just trying to get to know me, and I enjoy meeting everyone.”
The charismatic DeCoud is soaking in every new experience as the NFL Draft approaches. At this year’s NFL combine, there was one moment in particular that stood out in his mind.
“I actually got to meet Deion Sanders,” he revealed with a boyish excitement peppering his voice. “You never expect to meet and talk to someone you’ve admired, and all of a sudden, he was there.”
Days from now, DeCoud will reach the end of his path leading to the NFL. Once he is drafted and signs with a team, he will begin blazing a new path.
With this new life before him, a myriad of emotions must bombard DeCoud, right?
“Actually, I’m okay because all of it is out of my hands now,” he replies with a confidence in his voice. “I’ve done everything I could possibly do. Now I’m just going to sit back and see where the ball bounces.”