USA TODAY SPORTS — Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, who rose to stardom during his time with the Denver Broncos, is hanging up his pads to pursue a career in psychology.
In an article written by Thomas published in "The Players Tribune" on Friday, the 30-year-old made it clear that instead of continuing to play the game he's grown to love, he's going to shift his focus to helping others — some of whom have been hurt by that same game.
"While making the decision to no longer play the game is difficult, I’m also incredibly excited about what’s next: Studying therapy and becoming well trained in it so that I can help people heal from their emotional and mental pain," Thomas wrote.
Thomas, who will go back to school and pursue his doctorate, said he will focus on "investigating the effects of contact sports on brain trauma and neurobehavioral performance" and will participate in research to "identify early warning signs of brain disease."
Thomas said he felt particularly drawn to the field by the opportunity to contribute research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions and repetitive head trauma.
"Because of my football career, CTE became a pretty frequent topic of conversation," Thomas wrote. "Truthfully, it wasn’t something openly discussed a lot while I was playing. There were offhand references, but for the most part, it was something we knew we were at risk for but had no idea what the risk really was. That surprised a lot of people I spoke with. And what I quickly discovered is that there was a ton of brain trauma research that I was completely unaware of, but also a ton of research that still needed to be conducted.
"In those moments I started to feel aligned, to feel a sort of calling to study brain trauma. It just sort of fit. I knew I wanted to help and knew that this would be a great way to help football players, to be that person who could help them understand what we all are at risk of. I felt inside that this was stuff I needed to understand."
Thomas, who was selected by Denver in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, first broke out for the Broncos in 2013 as one of Peyton Manning's key targets. He recorded 24 touchdowns in his first two seasons as a starter.
Thomas signed a five-year, $46 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2015, but he recorded just 736 yards and nine touchdowns in two seasons before he was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
He was released by the Dolphins in March and finishes his career with 226 receptions, 2,406 yards and 36 touchdowns.