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Top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history: No. 31 Mike Thomas

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Photo illustration by azcentral sports.

Position, years at Arizona: Receiver, 2005-08

Honors, accomplishments at UA: Holds the school and Pac-12 records for career receptions with 259. … Earned first-team all-conference honors as a junior and senior. … Ranks third in UA history in career receiving yards with 3,231. … Tied for fourth in UA history with 23 career touchdown receptions. … Had a career-high 1,038 yards in 2007 and tied a school season record with 11 receiving touchdowns.

Why he made our list: Mike Thomas was one of the stars of the Mike Stoops era, always able to find open spots in the middle of the field as a slot receiver. He set a freshman school record with 52 receptions and never slowed up, catching a swing pass on the final play of the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl to set the conference career receptions record, breaking the mark held by ASU’s Derek Hagan.

“Money Mike” had 11 100-yard receiving games in his career, nine in his final two seasons.

A couple of highlights:

— UA trailed by 15 points early in the fourth quarter at Washington in 2007 before Thomas’ 45-yard kick return to the Washington 46 gave the Wildcats life. UA went on to score three touchdowns in the final 12 minutes, including two on touchdown passes to Thomas, to win 48-41.

— Thomas was chosen as the Bob Moran Most Valuable Player of the 2008 Territorial Cup game, catching nine passes and breaking open the game late in the third quarter with a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown, retreating to grab a bouncing ball over his shoulder and then using his blockers to sprint down the left sideline. Arizona won 31-10.

“Mike has been a big-play guy his whole career,” coach Mike Stoops said after the game.

Thomas’ conference record of 259 catches isn’t likely to hold up. USC’s Marqise Lee has 191 receptions entering his junior season.

Life after college: Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick of Jacksonville in 2009 (No. 107 overall), had 171 catches for 1,768 yards and six touchdowns through 45 games before being traded to Detroit on Nov. 1. He caught just five passes for the Lions in nine games last season and is battling for a backup job in training camp.

His NFL highlight came in 2010 when he caught a Hail Mary throw from David Garrard to beat Houston, being in the right place at the right time to haul in a batted-down pass at the 1-yard line and take it into the end zone for a 31-24 victory (see video below).

In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.

No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley

No. 49 — Hubie Oliver

No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski

No. 47 — Jim Donarski

No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter

No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin

No. 44 — John Fina

No. 43 — Glenn Parker

No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson

No. 41 — Marcus Bell

No. 40 — Fred W. Enke

No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey

No. 38 — Juron Criner

No. 37 — Dana Wells

No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe

No. 35 — Bruce Hill

No. 34 — Chuck Osborne

No. 33 — Brandon Sanders

No. 32 — Sean Harris

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