Life changed for Mike Thomas in the late afternoon on November 14 when he was on the receiving end of a 50-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass from David Garrard to beat the Houston Texans as time expired.
The interview requests poured in, people stopped him on the street to congratulate him, ESPN invited him for a day at their headquarters and replays were shown on television screens across the country. His followers on Twitter and Facebook increased significantly, a positive sign for a player who enjoys interacting with fans on a daily basis.
The catch has also given him opportunities on a national level. He is staying at his parents' house in DeSoto, Texas this week and is spending time signing autographs at various events for sponsors as part of the Super Bowl festivities.
The attention was also heightened on the campus of the University of Arizona, where Thomas is finishing his final three classes for a degree in communications. As a four-year starter for the Wildcats, Thomas was already well-known in the area but things are different now.
"I can't walk around too often without getting noticed or having to sign an autograph," Thomas told jaguars.com. "Not in class but as soon as it's over."
Thomas spends his days in Tucson taking classes in accounting, business technology and communications. He didn't want to waste all the work he put in during his four years and not get the ultimate reward, a diploma.
Plus, his father, Michael Thomas had been urging him to return to school since he was drafted by the Jaguars in 2009.
"It was important for me," Thomas said. "I just had a few classes left and just being so close and putting in all the work and letting it all go would be stupid. On top of that, I want to have an upper edge on life when football comes to an end."
If last season was any indication, football won't be coming to an end anytime soon for Thomas. He was the Jaguars' most productive wide receiver and also served as the club's punt returner. He produced career-high numbers with 66 receptions for 820 yards and joined Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell as the only players in team history with 66-plus receptions in a season.
Of course, most of the attention was focused on Thomas' catch against the Texans but he was also the most consistent receiver for the Jaguars. He had at least four receptions in 11 of 16 games and had a streak of three straight games with a touchdown.
The Jaguars have not had a 1,000-yard receiver since Jimmy Smith in 2005 and it still bothers Thomas that the streak remains intact. It didn't help that he went two games without a catch.
"To have two games with no catches at all was frustrating," Thomas said. "At the same time it's rewarding because look at what I did without those catches and yards. If they do come to me two more times that game or this game then I'm right there with the best of them. I feel really good about it and that's the level I think I should be on."
Make no mistake, Thomas believes he should be mentioned among the NFL's best. His brash personality has won over teammates because it doesn't go over the edge.
"I'm never the kind of guy that thinks I'm so much better than anybody," Thomas said. "I'm not the bragging type. I'm real cordial, get along with folks and like to have fun.
"But when it's time to play I'm going to compete my butt off. I'm competitive and I want to be recognized as one of the good players. I'm the guy that people will look at and say, 'He's too short to be doing anything.' I have always known I can play. I have been fast. God has blessed me and it gives me a sense of pride to where I know I can play with the best of them. I just go out and play with confidence."
Much like his teammates, the 2010 season still lingers with Thomas. The offseason is already a month old but the thought of what could have been is something Thomas believes will motivate his teammates moving forward. The Jaguars had an opportunity to claim their first division title since 1999 but fell short at Indianapolis which was a "humbling" experience.
"We were right there ready to take it," Thomas said. "To see that kind of slip through our hands let me know we haven't arrived yet as a team. We were on a roll and feeling good about ourselves. We go up to Indy and we're not able to seal the deal. It let me know we have a lot of work to do but we're close. We're right there."
While his numbers have improved in each of his first two seasons, Thomas doesn't hesitate when asked about the part of his game that needs work.
"I have to stay honed in on the details for four quarters," he said. "I'm the type of guy if I don't get involved or not into the game, like anybody, I just lose sight of the task at hand. The playing part and athletic part is easy. You have to pay attention to your assignments and I think that's what will take me to the next level. I'm going to work hard. That's not the issue."
Thomas will say goodbye to his parents on Sunday and head back across the country to begin another week of classes. He is not completely alone as his longtime girlfriend, Angelica Williams, and three-month old daughter, Audrina Jervae, are staying with him and he is joined in the weight room each afternoon by another Jaguar, Eben Britton, who is also continuing his education at Arizona.
With the labor uncertainty in the NFL, Thomas wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
"It feels good to be walking around, the weather is perfect and you're kind of at peace," Thomas said. "It's great to be doing something productive with your offseason as opposed to running around from city to city spending money like I probably would be doing if I wasn't in school."