Sunday, April 27, 2008

Productive day for Connecticut football; four with state ties drafted

Very busy day for Connecticut football, and not just UConn. Tyvon Branch and Donald Thomas went in the fourth and sixth rounds to the Raiders and Dolphins. Rob Jackson, a defensive end at Kansas State, gave West Haven a second draft pick for the day when the Redskins took him in the seventh round. Also, Greenwich resident John Sullivan, a center at Notre Dame, was picked by the Vikings in the sixth round.

Still waiting for a callback from Jackson, but I spoke with both Thomas and Branch today. Here's some of what they had to say:

West Haven’s Donald Thomas had last played organized football as a freshman in high school when he decided to tryout at UConn in the summer of 2004.

Less than four years later, Thomas is heading to the NFL.

Thomas, an all-Big East offensive guard last fall in his only season as a starter, was selected in the sixth round (195th overall) of the NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, UConn teammate Tyvon Branch was taken in the fourth round (100th overall) by Oakland. Branch, a cornerback/return specialist, became the third-highest drafted UConn player behind Alfred Fincher in 2005 (3rd, round, 82nd overall) and John Dorsey in 1984 (4th round, 99th overall).

Thomas joins a Miami team with a heavy New Haven flavor. Head coach Tony Sparano, hired in January, was born and raised in the city. So was tight ends coach George DeLeone. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni attended Cheshire High and coached several seasons at Southern Connecticut State.

“All the New Haven connections in Miami is just crazy,” Thomas said. “It goes to show it’s a small world. A lot of people (in the NFL) can say they’re from Connecticut, but not a lot can say they’re from New Haven. To be going to the next level and have the head coach be from your hometown…it’s kind of like this was supposed to happen for me with Miami. It’s the perfect fit.”

Thomas, who is 6-foot-3, 308 pounds, says he had only one brief discussion with Miami in the months leading into the draft and has never met Sparano.

On Sunday, Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland called Thomas to tell him he was about to be selected. Shortly after the pick was made official, Sparano called. Bill Parcells, recently named Miami’s executive vice president, hadn’t called Thomas as of Sunday evening.

Thomas joins a Miami team coming off a 1-15 season in which the offensive line was one of many problems. On Saturday, the Dolphins chose another offensive lineman, Michigan tackle Jake Long, with the No. 1 overall pick of the draft.

"The Dolphins are a team that obviously needs a lot of help and it's an organization filled with New Haven people,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "Donald will fit in well there. He is one of those tough, hard-nosed guys that Parcells looks for. He has a tremendous opportunity in Miami if he continues to work hard and some very good coaches to be around.” Thomas leaves for Miami’s mini-camp on Thursday.

“I want to show them I’m a good football player,” Thomas said. “That I only started for one season doesn’t mean anything. I’m a quality football player. Now I just have to show them that when I get down there.”Branch, a three-year starter, was projected to be taken int he second or third round. He fell to the first pick of the fourth round, although the Raiders traded with Dallas just before the selection, moving up four spots so they could take Branch.

The slight drop mattered little to Branch on Sunday.

“I’m just relieved,” Branch said from his home in Cicero, where he gathered with about 25 friends and family members to watch the day’s proceedings. “It’s a dream come true, and a huge burden off my back.”

Branch may ultimately move to safety in the NFL, where his size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) and blazing speed (4.31-seconds in the 40-yard dash) make him ideally suited for the position.

Oakland’s plans for Branch are tough to read because of its offseason acquisitions of high profile safety Gibril Wilson and cornerback DeAngelo Hall.

But there’s no doubt Branch will have the opportunity to be an immediate contributor on special teams. He returned a pair of kickoffs for 97-yard touchdowns last fall, is a former high school sprint state champion in New York who was clocked at 10.60 seconds in the 100 and turned in the second-fastest 40 time at the NFL Combine in February.

The Raiders, 4-12, won more games than only Miami and St. Louis last season. It could be an ideal situation for a young player to see the field right away.

"It's great for Tyvon and great for our program,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “It's also exciting to see the Raiders trade up to draft him because it shows that they really want Tyvon.

"To graduate in three and a half years and get drafted is a great testament to Tyvon. He has had a fulfilling career here at UConn with a Big East Championship and two bowl games. I couldn't be happier for him. The Raiders are getting a young man of very high caliber in Tyvon."

Branch was the Raiders second draft choice. After selecting Arkansas running back Darren McFadden in the first round (fourth overall), they were without second and third round picks.


Blogger Vanessa said...

Actually five guys. You missed Jamey Richards (University at Buffalo). He is from Weston, Conn. Seventh rd. (236) Indianapolis Colts selects Jamey Richard C Buffalo
Quote "Richard is another quality interior depth guy for the Colts. This kid plays with a real nasty streak and he could also slide out to guard - even though he played mostly center."

May 03, 2008 4:22 AM 
Blogger Chip Malafronte said...

Five, indeed. Good catch.

May 03, 2008 8:15 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Five guys who will never do a DAMN THING in the NFL.

May 24, 2008 2:52 AM 

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