LANSING, Mich. -- A year ago, Devin Thomas was a relatively unknown receiver just getting ready to crack the starting lineup at Michigan State.
This weekend, he's projected to be a first-round NFL draft pick, and he could even be the first receiver chosen.
The meteoric rise came as a surprise to many, but not necessarily to Thomas.
He believed in his talent even while toiling in relative obscurity, and sometimes on the bench, in junior college and early in his two seasons with the Spartans.
"I always knew I had the ability," Thomas said this week between stops working out for NFL teams. "I just needed the opportunity."
Thomas, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, decided to skip his senior season with Michigan State after a standout junior year.
He set a single-season school record with 79 receptions for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns. Thomas set a single-season Big Ten record with 1,135 yards on kickoff returns. Then he impressed scouts at the NFL combine, where he ran some of the fastest 40-yard dash times among receivers.
Until this past year, Thomas struggled to catch and keep the attention of the football world.
Thomas attended Ann Arbor Huron and Canton (Mich.) high schools. He wound up at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, working to earn a shot at big-time college football.
Thomas landed at Michigan State before the 2006 season, part of a junior college recruiting wave by former Spartan coach John L. Smith. But Thomas didn't get much playing time during his first season as a Spartan, catching just six passes in his role as a backup or multiple wideout set receiver.
Thomas was stuck behind Matt Trannon and Kerry Reed, both of whom were signed by NFL teams. He bit his tongue and bided his time.
New opportunities arose when Trannon and Reed departed Michigan State and other receivers either were temporarily suspended or shifted to defense by first-year coach Mark Dantonio.
Thomas quickly emerged as a go-to guy for the Spartans with a variety of downfield patterns, bubble screens and reverses to maximize his number of touches.