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Old School

While draft hype consumes NFL nation, Wisconsin's Joe Thomas is chilling in Madison, hitting the books and the brats and waiting for life to get even better

Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 10:10AM; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2007 10:10AM
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University of Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas.
University of Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas.
JC Ridley/WireImage.com
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There may not be a better off-campus house in America than the one that Wisconsin senior tackle Joe Thomas shares with five teammates in Madison. Miller Lite tap in the kitchen, poker room in the basement, John Belushi poster on the TV room wall and -- everyone's favorite -- padded red bra hanging from the antlers of a six-point trophy buck. "I was just doing laundry one day, and it snuck its way into my clothes," Badgers defensive back Ben Strickland says mischievously while watching Pardon the Interruption from the depths of a recliner. In Thomas's room upstairs, his laptop rests on homemade legs: four rolls of toilet paper. In the backyard there's a hot tub, a hammock and a couch. The best in late-night college carryout is within stumbling distance on Madison's busy streets.

There may not be a better school in America to study real estate and urban land economics than Wisconsin. Thomas carries a 3.5 grade point average in the undergraduate program, which is ranked second nationally by U.S. News & World Report, and even with the NFL draft looming, he has a full course load this semester: Finance 300, real estate finance, business law, real estate development. Who says a guy can't be Jonathan Ogden and Donald Trump in the same lifetime?

There may not be a better campus workout facility for a leading NFL prospect than the Badgers' weight room. No distractions, Green Day playing over the sound system, spotter always at the ready. Strength and conditioning coach John Dettmann designed a regimen that the 6'6", 313-pound Thomas has been following four afternoons a week in preparation not for the NFL scouting combine or a private workout but for his first NFL minicamp, in May.

There may not be a better fiancée in America than Annie Nelson. A mix of Jennie Finch, Andrea Kremer and Miss Bassmaster, she's a fetching former Badgers basketball player who just finished her first season as a radio commentator for her old team and who grew up fishing with her dad in northwest Wisconsin. "I never wanted to date a football player, and I spent the first couple of weeks hanging out with Joe trying to find something wrong with him," says Nelson, who'll graduate in May with degrees in economics and broadcasting. "But I couldn't. He's just ... perfect."

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