LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Fresno State senior safety Phillip Thomas finished as a runner-up for the Jim Thorpe Award, which was presented Thursday to Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks live on ESPN from the Atlantic Dance Hall on the Boardwalk at The Walt Disney World Resort.
Thomas, a 6-1, 215-pounder out of Bakersfield, Calif., was looking to become just the second player from a non-BCS program to win the Thorpe Award. He is the first Bulldog that has been invited to the College Football Awards show.
"It was just the greatest experience for me and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get invited out here," Thomas said. "I appreciate everybody for nominating me and just giving me recognition I worked so hard for."
Despite not winning the award, Thomas still received two All-America honors on Thursday. He became the first Bulldog to ever be named a first-team Walter Camp All-American and was also selected to the Sporting News All-America team.
Thomas was the only offensive or defensive player on either All-America first-team that is not from a BCS conference.
"What a thrill it was for me to be here with Phillip honoring the terrific season he had," head coach Tim DeRuyter said. "To lead the nation in interceptions and be a finalist for the Thorpe Award is a great thrill for all Fresno State Bulldogs and we are so proud of him.
"He represented our school and football team really well and while we're disappointed he didn't win it, to be in the company of the types of individuals that he was with tonight really reflected well on him and Fresno State."
The Jim Thorpe Award is named after the world's greatest athlete of all time and is one that emphasizes not only athletic ability, but most importantly character. Like Jim Thorpe, Thomas persevered through hardships to achieve excellence.
He missed the entire 2011 season after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle three days before the season opener.
His dedication to return to the field, working hard rehabbing the injury with the athletic training staff and building back strength in his leg paid off. The Bulldog safety had one of the best seasons, if not the best, of any defensive player in the nation.
"It means the world to me being recognized," Thomas said. "It just shows my dedication to the game and work ethic to just get back to full speed and be able to compete at the highest level again."
Thomas' eight picks led the nation and set a new Mountain West record. He also tied for the FBS lead with three interceptions returned for touchdowns and nine total take-aways (eight picks, one fumble recovery).
His four forced fumbles tied for the sixth-most in the nation and his 12.0 tackles for a loss ranked No. 3 in the Mountain West.
Courtesy: FS Athletics