Not many people know that Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas was an Eagle long before he was a Bill. Buffalo's all-time leading rusher was reminded of his Eagle days in a ceremony last month at Willowridge high school in his native Houston as he was named a Hometown Hall of Famer at his alma mater.
In a grand welcome for arguably their most famous alumnus, Willowridge rolled out the school band, a dance team and cheerleaders as part of a pep rally for the event.
"It was a great time," Thomas told Buffalobills.com. "I got to see my old high school coach and got to go back and see some other coaches and some teachers. It was awesome."
Thomas' former high school coach Neal Quillin was on hand to present the memorial plaque while also sharing memories of Thomas' playing days at the school. The Hall of Fame running back posted back-to-back 1,500-yard season in 1982 and 1983 to earn All-State and All-American honors.
Thomas was happy to reunite with some of the teachers that pushed him to keep his grades up right to the end of his senior year.
"They really drove home how important school was and helped me get my grade point average up so I'd be able to get a scholarship, go to college and play my first year," said Thomas.
Speaking to the students in attendance for the ceremony Thomas kept his message simple.
"I was telling them once an Eagle, always an Eagle," he said. "I kept telling the kids to always follow their dreams. Not everybody is going to play football or be a professional athlete, but they should all still strive to have big dreams."
Thomas would go on to earn a scholarship at Oklahoma State where he rushed for almost 4,600 yards (4,595) and 43 touchdowns before being drafted by the Bills in the second round of the 1988 NFL draft where he put together a Hall of Fame career as a four-time AFC Champion.
As special as being enshrined in Canton was as a member of the 2007 Hall of Fame class, being honored in a similar way in his hometown had a more sentimental meaning for Thomas.
"A lot of people a Willowridge helped me achieve my goals," said Thomas. "Now to be known as 'the guy' of the high school was pretty cool."