Super day ahead for two Portland State Vikings
Portland State football coach Nigel Burton has five former players including two ex-Vikings at Super Bowl XLVIII.
"Very cool," Burton says. "I've forgotten about some Super Bowls, but this one, I'll never forget."
Burton coached Seattle Seahawks defensive back DeShawn Shead and Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas at PSU.
Burton also had Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall and Broncos tight end Virgil Green while serving as defensive coordinator at Nevada in 2007-08 and Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner during his 2003-07 stint as secondary coach at Oregon State.
So, who to root for on Sunday?
"I'll be torn," Burton says. "I'm just hoping for a really good game."
Shead is perhaps the most unlikely of the Burton pupils to make it to football's ultimate stage. Undrafted out of Portland State, the 6-2, 220-pound safety/cornerback starts on special teams for the defensive-minded Seahawks.
Shead says he is looking forward to the challenge of Sunday's 3:30 p.m PT game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., and is excited to face his friend, Thomas.
"It's more than a dream come true," says Shead, a native of Palmdale, Calif. "I'm not just going to the Super Bowl, but I'm actually playing in the Super Bowl. I have the chance to be an impact player and help contribute."
Shead says he and Thomas, a Pro Bowl pick this season, "are pretty good friends. We went to school together for four years. We used to see each other on and off campus a lot, and worked out together.
"The day before the championship games (in the AFC and NFC), I told Julius, 'Hope we play each other.' "
Shead says he is happy he trusted his gut instinct to stick with the Seahawks, even though the Minnesota Vikings offered him a spot on the active roster when he was on Seattle's practice squad earlier in the season.
"I declined, and I am very happy with my decision," Shead says. "Plus, their coach (Leslie Frazier) got fired."
Shead has had the opportunity to learn from the best in the business, including three Pro Bowl players safeties Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman.
"I'm learning from three All-Pro players," Shead says. "I'm definitely fortunate and made a really good decision."
Shead says his goals include being a starter on defense in the NFL.
Burton says Shead is one of the best defensive backs ever at Portland State.
"He had six picks as a freshman," Burton says. "Since day one, he had a shot at the NFL, and I knew that. He's great on special teams."
Shead says Sunday's title game "is going to be a great matchup. They have the best quarterback (Peyton Manning) to ever play the game. We just need to keep doing what we are doing. The game is going to come down to ball control and turnovers."
The 6-5, 250-pound Thomas, a Stockton, Calif., native, was drafted in the fourth round by the Broncos in 2011 and played his first full season this year. He quickly became one of Manning's favorite targets, hauling in 12 regular-season touchdown passes to break Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe's franchise record of 10 TD catches by a tight end.
Thomas also caught the 37-year-old Manning's record-breaking 51st touchdown pass in week 17 against the Oakland Raiders.
Thomas, who played four years of basketball and then only one year of football at Portland State, finished the regular season with 788 receiving yards.
"He has been very exciting to watch," Burton says. "All of our (football) players are put through a process at PSU: 'How serious are you? Did some friend tell you to try out?' And he was very serious. There was no reason to be skeptical."
In basketball, Thomas set some school records for the Vikings, including most games played (121), wins (78) and field-goal percentage (.663). As a senior, he averaged 10.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and shot a school-record .671 from the field for coach Tyler Geving.
"This isn't something I imagined doing when I was 20 years old and getting ready to play in the NCAA Tournament," Thomas says, of being in the Super Bowl. "I wasn't thinking, 'Man, if you just fast-forward that clock a little bit, you'll be competing in the biggest game in America.'
"It's just a blessing to be here. I'm going to enjoy it, and I'm very much looking forward to participating in the game Sunday."
Thomas was all-Big Sky as a football player in 2010, when he had 29 receptions for 453 yards and two touchdowns.
"People always say, 'Which took longer to learn?' " he says. "Catching footballs is a little different from catching basketballs, but you're still used to catching things, timing and getting both hands on it. I don't think that took very long to change at all, but blocking is sport-specific. That did take a little time to get adjusted to. (And) so many small things that you probably wouldn't imagine. It all was a learning process."
Thomas says he thought he was going to be "a great wide receiver" for the Broncos and then tight ends coach Clancy Barone called him over on the first day of practice, sat him down and "told me that if I played tight end I would create match-up problems."
"I really thank him for helping me decide to play tight end. It was a great move on his part to not let me play receiver. I've loved playing tight end."
Burton, who stays in touch with Shead and Thomas, says he has made one request of his former players.
"I told both of them that I want a picture of them together on the field," he says. "They're friends, and that's special. They need to cherish this moment for a long time. Especially with being so young, you sometimes forget to cherish certain moments."
Shead says he would love to take that photo for his former coach "if we can do it after the game, because we both need to focus on the game."
Shead says he's proud to represent his former school.
"I hope it puts PSU on the map and helps in the long run with recruiting," he says. "PSU has put out a lot of great players. But it's been hard to get over the hump and win a championship."