A retired Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowler returned to the gridiron this week.
William Thomas, linebacker for the Eagles through most of the 1990s, made an appearance at the NFL Alumni Hero Youth Football Camp at Newtown Friends School on Tuesday.
Thomas spoke with campers about his pro career, gave tips on how to improve their skills and even participated in some 7-on-7 action as steady quarterback.
“It’s always good to give back to the kids,” Thomas said. “I can offer them my experience. I grew up wanting to play professional football like a lot of these kids do. I just tell them how my path was. A lot of people think you just go out and play, but there’s a lot more to it.”
Thomas was taken by the Eagles with the 104th pick in the 1991 NFL draft after starring at Texas A&M University. He played for the team from 1991 to 1999, earning two NFC Pro Bowl selections. From 1993 to 1996, Thomas led all NFL linebackers with 13 interceptions. After his time in Philadelphia, he spent two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, where he played under former Eagles assistant coach Jon Gruden.
Thomas, 47, said he participates in the camp to help get kids on the right path, especially in prioritizing education.
“That’s one of the most important things,” he said. “If they get just that alone, then I’m happy. You can’t do anything without an education.”
The Newtown camp, which was for ages 6 through 14, was attended by about 60 kids. Through the week, former Eagles wide receiver Fred Barnett and tight end Maurice Johnson also made appearances. There were similar camps held in 14 locations throughout the Delaware Valley. Other camps were attended by Bill Bergey, Garry Cobb, Irving Fryar and Joe Pisarcik.
“This is one of the bigger ones in the area,” said camp director Jon Hoffmeier. “We want to teach them how to be good young men, good students and hopefully good football players.”
The non-contact camps teach players football skills in a safe environment. One of the focuses is the Heads Up curriculum, which emphasizes proper blocking and tackling techniques for tackle-bound players.
Spending time with Willie T was just a bonus.
Thomas returned to the Philadelphia area after his retirement, and now lives in Reading. He stays involved in football as a Division I-AA official in the Colonial, Ivy and Patriot leagues. He has been officiating for the past three years.
“I wish I had started it when I first retired,” Thomas said. “You’re not playing, but you’re a part of it. I’m not tackling anybody, but I’m right there in the middle of it.”
Thomas remains a fan of his longtime team. He said he recently spoke with his former teammate and new Eagles head coach Doug Pederson.
“We had some good times at the Vet,” Thomas said. “He said things are looking good, so we’ll see.”