Right now, it's a waiting game for Johnny Thomas.

The former St. John's Prep star running back knows he has to be patient while waiting for a break in his quest to become a National Football League player.

The Penn State graduate learned patience in his five-year career as a Nittany Lion, and following a bump in the road in his professional career is awaiting another opportunity to show what he can do.

Everything seemed to be going in the right direction when the undrafted running back from Peabody signed a contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in the spring. Having always been in top physical condition, Thomas eagerly looked forward to joining the Bengals' rookie camp, but he failed the team's physical and was released.

Thomas was stunned when he was told he had failed the physical. The only time he had previously had issues with his knee came during his senior year of high school in 2013 when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) against Everett. He rebounded from that injury and was good to go after being redshirted by Penn State his freshman year.

"I was told by the Bengals I had arthritis in the knee, but when I went to see the Patriots' doctor, (Mass. General orthopedic surgeon Mark) Price, for a second opinion, he cleared me to play," said Thomas. "He told me there was no reason why I would not be able to continue to play.

"Doctors have told me a high percent of both NBA and NFL players do have some arthritis in their knees, but it doesn't hinder them; it comes with the profession," added Thomas. "To tell you the truth, I was shocked when I wasn't medically cleared to play by Cincinnati."

Sean Stellato, a Salem native and Thomas' NFL player agent, relayed that Cincinnati felt there was inflammation in his client's knee. The second opinion they got in Boston, he said, revealed that doctors there believed there were no concerns and he was fit to play.

"Then he had a very productive workout with the Texans, where he ran a very quick 40-yard dash in 4.3 (seconds)," said Stellato. "It was very hot down in Houston, around 100 degrees. I don't know whether that figured into things, but he strained his hamstring during a workout. The way he was going, I think the Texans would have brought him in except for the injury.

"Two days later the Green Bay Packers called; they wanted to bring him into camp and offer a contract," added Stellato. "Fortunately, the injury is just a strain and he's rehabbing it now."

Thomas said the hamstring injury was minor, and it will be fine in another few days.

"It's not serious, but the timing couldn't have been worse," he said. "But it's a long season for the NFL and things open up. I have to be patient, keep working hard and have perseverance. Those are all things that are life tools and valuable in the future.

"I'm learning how to be mentally prepared, keep a positive outlook and not have self pity. I need to continue to stay focused. It's not always easy, but I know I have to keep my mind, body, and soul strong as I continue to work toward my dream."

Stellato is hopeful something else will come along for Thomas with three-plus weeks remaining in preseason.

"Johnny has a great attitude," said Stellato, who has several NFL clients. "He knows you sign up for the ups and downs. I wanted to sign an injury waiver clause in the contract, but a lot of times teams won't do that with rookies.

"He's had setbacks in the past, and I really believe something will open up for him. There's still interest, and he's staying on top of things. Johnny knows he's got to keep working and believing. I believe there's a purpose to everything."

Stellato said another option for Thomas could be the XFL, which will have tryouts October 7-9. That is Vince McMahon's league that has eight teams and plays in late winter after the Super Bowl and on into the spring.


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