Though football excellence is in his genes, it took an invitation from his high school coach to get Thomas DeCoud to give the sport a try. The grandson of former 49ers All-Pro John Thomas didn’t play organized football until high school — seven years later he was picked by the Falcons in third round of the NFL draft. As part of an ongoing series introducing the Falcons’ rookie class, DeCoud spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway last week about where he grew up, his background in football and his Guitar Hero habit.
Question: What can you tell me about your hometown of Vallejo, Calif.?
Answer: It’s a real mellow place. It’s kind of like the hip-hop mecca of the Bay Area in California. A lot of rappers have come out of there, a lot of slang and other pop culture in the hip-hop community came from there.
Q: How old were you when that started to get big?
A: About 10, 11, 12; something like that. When I was middle-school age it started to get big and give us some national exposure.
Q: Was that something y’all took a lot of pride in?
A: Oh definitely. I’m glad to be from the Bay Area, glad to be from Vallejo. I’m a Cali boy through and through.
Q: So what’s it been like adjusting to life in the Southeast?
A: The hardest part is this humidity. It’s really dry and it doesn’t get too hot in California, especially in the Bay Area. So just the stickiness in the atmosphere here has been different.
Q: You’ve got experience all over the defensive backfield. At what point did you really find your home at free safety?
A: Probably during my redshirt sophomore year (at Cal). I came in as a cornerback and redshirted my first year and played corner my redshirt freshman year. Then after a couple of seniors had graduated I moved to safety, and really found what I felt like was my niche. Even though I played a little bit of cornerback throughout my last three years there, I really felt like safety was my niche — just being able to see the whole field and the bigger picture of what the offense is trying to do.
Q: Is that what you like most about the position?
A: Yeah, that and being able to have an impact against the run or the pass.
Q: Early in your career you were known as a kick- and punt-blocking specialist. That’s a pretty specialized skill; what made you good at it?
A: I think it’s just an intangible thing that’s a part of you. You know, some people can play the guitar really well and other people can do other things really well just because it’s built into their DNA, so to speak. It’s just one of those things that I found I was good at through trial and error and really just finding the timing and exploding off the ball.
Q: When did you start playing football?
A: I started playing in 10th grade, my sophomore year of high school.
Q: What made you decide to come out then?
A: I was playing basketball throughout my whole life and the (high school football) coach saw that I was an athlete and asked me to come out and play for the team. From then on it was history.
Q: Were you a starter right from the beginning?
A: Yeah. I played receiver and corner, and a little bit of quarterback.
Q: Was there a player that you looked up to or idolized?
A: My grandfather (John Thomas) played for the Niners in the '50s and '60s and he was an All-Pro, so I grew up a Niners fan and I always liked guys like Ronnie Lott and Merton Hanks.
Q: What’s your favorite football memory?
A: I would say when we beat Texas A&M in ’06 in the Holiday Bowl. We went into that game and they were thinking they were the Big 12 and they were just going pound us and run it down our throats. But we came out and hit ’em in the mouth and put it on ’em, so that’s a really good memory for me of representing Pac 10 football.
Q: Has life in the NFL been what you expected so far?
A: Yeah, it’s a grind. The learning curve is real small. You’ve got to learn your stuff and be in your book everyday. So I’m definitely adjusting to that and hopefully I’ll be able to contribute to the team and come out and get some playing time.
Q: What do you like to do outside of football?
A: I’m a video game guy. I love Guitar Hero, I love Halo. If I’m not on the field or in my playbook, I’m playing video games.
Q: So how good are you at Guitar Hero?
A: Well I play on expert and I’ve beaten all three games that have come out so far, so I’m pretty good.