Friday, September 28, 2007

SF Chronicle: Athletic safety DeCoud is a hit from backfield to YouTube

When teammates rattle off the most impressive talents of Cal safety Thomas DeCoud, it sounds like they're describing a fictional superhero.  "He's an athletic freak of nature," middle linebacker Worrell Williams said.  "His hands are like vacuums," said Steve Levy, a former Cal quarterback and ex-roommate of DeCoud.  "He's got the speed to chase anyone down," cornerback Brandon Hampton said.  "I've been hit by everybody on the team," tailback Justin Forsett said. "When Thomas hits you, it's not something you want to remember." It's a bird. It's a plane. No, it's Thomas DeCoud.

OK, so he can't leap over tall buildings in a single bound, but he can do just about anything else on a football field. DeCoud had 10 tackles, an interception, a fumble-inducing sack and recovered a separate fumble in Saturday's 45-27 win over Arizona. "Thomas always plays well, but he really made some big plays," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said after that game. "Thomas is one of our guys who is just rock solid week-in and week-out." DeCoud - whose play will be critical Saturday against Oregon's high-octane attack - earned Pac-10 defensive player of the week honors this week for the first time, but he had already gained some national attention. NFL scouts are impressed with his 6-foot-3, 204-pound frame and his tackling technique that is among the nation's surest. He's ranked as the country's No. 3 safety by most draft experts, and he'll probably rise from his current third-round-pick projection at the NFL combine. He has sub-4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, leaping ability and weight-lifting prowess. There was serious talk last season that DeCoud, an all-league guard at Pinole Valley High, might join the Bears' basketball team when it endured a series of injuries. When Cal had an injury-riddled receiving corps in 2005, Levy lobbied for DeCoud to move to wideout.

That athleticism helped DeCoud make his initial collegiate impact on special teams. In addition to his unworldly six blocked kicks, he laid a block on a punt return last season that knocked out UCLA's Korey Bosworth and set up DeSean's Jackson's 72-yard touchdown . A clip of the play has been viewed more than 88,000 times on There is also a Youtube video of DeCoud singing and dancing on a recent karaoke night that hasn't gotten nearly as much attention. Fortunately. "It's awesome," DeCoud joked. "No, really it's more like yelling and screaming into a microphone, but it has some pretty good dancing." DeCoud's ability to immediately switch from serious on-field leader to his cartoon-fanatic, electronics-crazed, off-field demeanor is another attribute that sets him apart. Levy remembers waking up at 2 some mornings and finding DeCoud laughing at DVDs of the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and DeCoud waited in line past midnight on a recent night to be one of the first to get the Halo 3 video game. "He's really a hybrid personality in that way," Levy said. "He knows when to be serious, but he doesn't miss any chances to have fun, either. Not a lot of people can do that." In one moment, DeCoud displays a lyrical soul with the ability to make defensive schemes sound almost like poetry. In the next, he's joking and bragging about when he and his father had matching box-top fade haircuts, accessorized with rat tails. DeCoud's parents are mainstays at Cal practices. His grandmother comes occasionally, and his grandfather, John Thomas, played 10 seasons as an offensive lineman for the 49ers. During a recent practice, DeCoud made a spectacular, leaping play to knock down a pass, but his grandmother wanted more. She screamed, "You've got to catch that, Thomas." He looked to the bleachers, and said, "I'm trying, Grandma." "He's an explosive guy with talent, but he also has charisma and a great personality," Williams said. "He's a charmer. He's everything you look for in a leader."


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