Texans WPMOY Nominee Michael Thomas Prepares Kids for Football, Life Success
Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.
Like many kids growing up in Texas, Michael Thomas grew up watching football every Sunday.
"I had it in my mind as a little kid, back in elementary school, that if I ever made it, I would want to come back and give back to my schools where I grew up," he said.
Thomas made it, and he is fulfilling his promise. The nine-year NFL veteran returns to his native Houston and Nimitz High School each offseason for a two-day camp that is about more than just football.
Thomas' camp is called Camp Mike T, named after Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson’s Camp LT, which Thomas attended as a kid. In years past, Camp Mike T has hosted hundreds of elementary and high school students over the course of two days. The first day, usually a Wednesday, is for students between the ages of eight and 13. The second day is for high-school aged students.
Thomas, who began the camp after his second year in the league with the Miami Dolphins, said the camp's foundation is football — but it also includes life skills to set his campers on the right path.
“I use football as a base,’’ Thomas said. “But the camp is really about education, leadership, and just trying to teach them how to be overall better young men and productive citizens. We do academic components in the morning when they get there — SAT and ACT prep, financial literacy.’’
Thomas has a question and answer forum with the students as well, which includes giveaways. “They love that," he said with a laugh.
Thomas, who returned home at the start of the 2020 season as a free agent signing of the Houston Texans, said he loves helping the kids back in his hometown through the free football camp.
“Youth football is a necessity. It did so much for so many guys where I grew up and did so much for me personally. It afforded me so many opportunities I wouldn't have had if I never played youth football.’’
“Now, my campers can see someone who walked the same hallways, played in the same stadiums that they do, and see how I made it to the NFL. They can learn how to have good sportsmanship, pull for each other, root for each other, and compete on the field and in the classroom."
Thomas also sponsors educational and motivational speeches for Houston-area youth. He invites his current and former teammates and college representatives to speak to the students, and awards an annual scholarship.
Thomas has always been on the forefront of social justice initiatives, and has been a leader during the anti-racism movements of 2020. Thomas' approach to social justice has been twofold, centering on advocacy and education while driving legislative change in the community.
In recognition of his leadership in the NFL's fight to advance social justice, and for his work in the Houston community, the Texans chose Thomas as their nominee for the 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Thomas was also nominated for the award as a member of the New York Giants in 2018.
"I understand the impact that we as NFL players can have on our youth, underserved communities and more," Thomas said. "It means the world to me that I may uplift someone with my time, resources, or just my encouragement."
“I want to show my campers that there are so many lessons that you can learn from playing football. Never quit, work well with each other, depend on each other, have accountability. That's why football is the greatest team sport that there is."
Photo Credit: AP/Gary McCullough