'Willie T' looking to make a comeback -- as a ref

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'Willie T' looking to make a comeback -- as a ref
July 30, 2013, 12:00 pm
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William Thomas, seen here attempting to tackle Emmitt Smith in 1993, is working to become an NFL official. (AP)

If you see former Eagles linebacker William Thomas on an NFL football field some time in the next decade, don't be surprised.

No, Thomas won't be wearing a green No. 51 jersey, as he did from 1991-99 when he was best known as Willie T and terrorized opponents on the Vet turf. Instead, if he makes it back to the NFL, Thomas will be wearing black and white stripes.

"Right now I'm trying to become an NFL official," Thomas said shortly after watching the Eagles' practice at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, when the team honored numerous former players. "I just got certified. I'm going to start officiating this year. So I definitely love the game. We'll see what happens."

Thomas, 44, recently attended Tom Beard's Football Official's Clinic and then officiated a couple semipro games. 

"That's what's really got me once I did that. I had a good time doing it," Thomas said.

In nine seasons with the Eagles (he played his final two for the Oakland Raiders), Thomas recorded 33 sacks and 18 interceptions. He is 10th in team history and second behind Seth Joyner among linebackers in sacks, and Chuck Bednarik (20) is the only Eagles linebacker to record more interceptions. Bill Bergey also had 18, and Joyner had 17.

Thomas still holds the team record for most interceptions in a season by a non-defensive back with seven, set in 1995 when he made the first of two straight Pro Bowls. He had six picks in his first season with the Raiders and three the next to finish his career in 2001 with 27.

Now a dozen years later, Thomas will return to the field as an official in Reading, Pa., where he lives. Having passed the test to become certified, he will begin officiating junior varsity high school games this fall.

"They start assigning you games, and you start getting scouted like you're a rookie all over again," he said. "It's just going to be J.V. first. Once you do that, they'll see how good you're doing.

"It's just actually about being back on the field. It's action out there. It's feeling close to the game. You're not actually a fan of the game, but you're in the game."

How long will it take Thomas to reach the NFL? Hopefully within 10 years.

"The norm is about 10 years," he said. "But since I played, we have a chance to get fast-tracked."

If he does make it back, Thomas realizes he will be calling a different game from the one he played. The practice he saw Sunday at training camp was a cakewalk compared to the physical workouts he endured.

"You know what I'm used to. That's all we did," Thomas said. "Not seeing a lot of nine on seven -- we used to have nine on seven all the time. But they don't do it anymore. They conserve the players, which is a great thing. But it is what it is. That's what football is now."

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