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Bison DE Brayden Thomas says life hasn't slowed since FCS title game, but he's enjoying pursuing NFL dream

North Dakota State defensive end Brayden Thomas recently accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl college football all-star game in early February in Las Vegas.

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North Dakota State's Brayden Thomas battles Montana State's Treyton Pickering during the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum
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FARGO — Less than 24 hours after North Dakota State defensive end Brayden Thomas helped the Bison earn an NCAA Division I FCS national championship in Frisco, Texas, the senior started to focus on the next phase of his football career.

The Sunday morning after, Thomas headed to nearby Fort Worth to take part in interviews with pro scouts as part of the College Gridiron Showcase. He didn’t take part in the drills or controlled scrimmage since his season had just ended.

Less than two weeks later, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Thomas accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl college all-star game, which is scheduled for Feb. 3 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

“It’s been a wild few weeks and it’s not going to stop and I’m really enjoying it,” said Thomas, from Bismarck. “I’m staying busy and having a lot of fun, but it’s a process. ... It’s crazy how fast life is moving right now, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Thomas, who is being represented by Dynamic Sports Group which is based in Las Vegas, has been training in the Denver area since a few days after NDSU’s 38-10 victory against Montana State for the FCS national title in early January. He’s training at Landow Performance, which also helped train former Bison defensive end Derrek Tuszka and tight end Ben Ellefson in their preparations for the NFL Draft. Tuszka is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ellefson with the Minnesota Vikings.

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Thomas said he’s thankful to get a chance to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl, which is set to be televised at 7 p.m. CST on Feb. 3 on NFL Network. Bison offensive tackle Cordell Volson is also playing in the Shrine Bowl.

“It’s a blessing, honestly. It shows a lot of the hard work I put in, but it’s also I tip my hat to a lot of the people that got me here,” Thomas said, referring to coaches, friends, family and teammates. “I can’t sit here and say that just my hard work and my determination has got me here.”

Thomas transferred to NDSU from Minnesota State Mankato after helping the Mavericks to an NCAA Division II runner-up finish in 2019. He started 15 games that season and led Mankato with 21 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks.

Thomas said he received FBS interest from a few Group of Five programs in addition to FCS powers like NDSU and James Madison. Thomas said he didn’t receive an offer from JMU and NDSU proved to be the perfect fit with a chance to finish his college career in his hometown state.

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North Dakota State defense end Brayden Thomas is set to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl college football all-star game.
David Samson / The Forum

“I felt like it was the best opportunity, mainly because of the program and the culture there. I felt like I was going to fit,” said Thomas, who started his college career at the University of Mary in Bismarck. “It made it a lot easier for a lot of my family to be able to see me play football in college.”

Thomas played in 22 games for NDSU, finishing with 18 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. He played in 13 games this past fall and led the Bison with 9 sacks, emerging as a top pass rusher for the Bison in his second season in the program.

Thomas said playing last spring with NDSU helped set the groundwork for his final college season. He added it took time to develop on-field chemistry with his defensive line teammates.

“It’s something that takes a little time to develop when you’re a new guy and coming in, I had to earn my ability to be on the field,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t like I was just going to come into NDSU and be the guy. I definitely had to step back and look at some of the guys that were in the program and kind of listen to them and see how everything worked.”

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North Dakota State's Brayden Thomas (98) and teammates ready for a snap against Montana State during the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022.
David Samson/ The Forum

Thomas anticipates pro teams are going to project him to play either defensive end or outside linebacker depending on the scheme.

Thomas said he’s leaned on teammates like Volson during the pre-draft process and has also gotten advice from Tuszka, who Thomas met this past summer.

“He’s been very helpful and he’s a great dude,” said Thomas, who’s career at NDSU didn’t overlap with Tuszka’s.

Thomas has also used Detroit Lions tight end Shane Zylstra as a resource. They were college teammates at Mankato.

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Thomas graduated from NDSU at the semester break, and for now is focused on pursuing a pro career that he hopes leads to the NFL.

“It’s nice to be able to say that I’ve graduated and finished that aspect of my life, because academics is very important because football ends at some point,” said Thomas, who also plans to participate at NDSU’s pro day in the spring. “That aspect of my life has a check mark at the end of it, but football doesn’t and I don’t want it to for a while.”

Thomas and Volson are two of the four Bison players who are playing in college all-star games this year. Bison wide receiver Christian Watson is set to play in the Reese's Senior Bowl and tight end Josh Babicz is headed to the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

“It’s awesome. I love those guys and I hope for the best. I hope they all turn into great NFL players. We all love each other in that locker room," Thomas said. “You either fit in with the hard work or you don’t. With hard work comes chemistry and culture.”

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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