To anyone who closely paid attention to the 2012 Arkansas-Pine Bluff football roster, it may come as a surprise that Thomas Winters is back on the practice field for the spring.
He was honored with the rest of his classmates on Senior Day, leaving many to expect he won’t play another game at Golden Lion Stadium. But he missed almost two entire years action since he arrived in Pine Bluff as part of coach Monte Coleman’s first signing class in 2008.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound wideout from Cahokia, Ill., is back in helmet and pads with the hope he’ll have a sixth year to finish his career. He’ll be with the Golden Lions when they hold their second spring scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday.
“I feel like I’m really confident in getting it,” Winters said. “You leave everything in God’s hands. He’ll take care of everything.
“You can’t really think about (the missed time) because that will affect you out here. You’ve got to blank everything out and keep it in God’s hands. Just go out there and play hard every day.”
Coleman said there’s no timeline as to when the NCAA will decide the fate of Winters’ career. Winters is expected to graduate in May with a degree in parks, leisure and recreation, but he can also pursue a master’s degree with an extra year.
“By my calculations, I believe he has another year of eligibility, but we’re trying to figure it out through compliance,” Coleman said. “Right now, I’m not sure if he’ll have another year, but by my calculations, he should have another year.”
Winters has already endured a long journey toward his return to game action. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the third game of the 2010 season and sat out the remainder of that campaign. Because he appeared in only the first three games of a season and was hurt, 2010 is considered his medical redshirt season.
His knee was not fully recovered in time for 2011 and sat out the entire season, leaving him with the 2012 season he gained because of the medical redshirt.
“I came in and I just had a scope on my injured knee in May,” he said. “It was a slow process with the scope. I had to go rehab every day until camp. My leg was strong, but it didn’t have that strength where I could push off.”
He finally saw action last year, starting in 11 of UAPB’s 12 games and making 19 catches for 187 yards. He missed the Tennessee State game because of what he called “a minor tweak” in the injured right knee.
While he said he’s not completely back to “100 percent” healthy, Winters has regained much of his speed.
“I used to run a 4.3 (second) 40 (yard dash),” he said. “I ran 4.4 not too long ago. I’m still getting back to where I was.”
It would mean a lot to Winters to play a fourth full season in what would be his sixth year at UAPB, a year in which he wants to make the kind of impact that Ladarius Eckwood and Dezmond Beverly have blessed the Golden Lions with as receivers.
“That would feel real good, being down two years,” he said. “Sitting out two years, that affects everything, your mind, the game. The game changes, you know, (with) different players. You just stay positive, keep grinding.
“I’m banking on God helping me for that sixth year. I know it’s going to pull through because we’ve done everything for the NCAA, and we’re just waiting on the call back.”