The following story appears on PlayFootball.NFL.com
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.
Hollis Thomas never went to a football camp as a kid growing up in St. Louis; he never played on a youth football team.
“They had youth football programs, but it cost a lot and we couldn’t afford it,” Thomas said.
So when Thomas reached the NFL, he decided he would give back to his community.
“I always ran a youth camp when I played, because growing up it was something we never had,’’ Thomas said. “That’s why I wanted to do something for the kids. I went to a couple of other (players) camps and saw what they did, and I really liked it.”
Thomas went undrafted in 1996 but still had a 14-year NFL career, appearing in 178 games for the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams. In Philadelphia, the 6-3, 300 pound defensive tackle earned the nickname “Tank.”
During his playing days, Thomas’ camps gave kids in the St. Louis area a chance to learn the game from players who reached the highest level of the sport.
While he was playing, Thomas said his teammates helped him become interested in coaching. When Pro Bowl defensive end Jevon Kearse joined the Eagles prior to their Super Bowl XXXIX run, he told Thomas he should get into coaching one day.
And after his playing career came to an end in 2009, Thomas started to find a knack for mentoring youth football players.
“It started with what I used to call my D-Line notes,” Thomas said “The kids where I went to the gym, I worked with them for a few hours, just teaching them what I knew from playing in the NFL.
“It was things I learned from my coaches — (former Eagles defensive coordinator) Jim Johnson, (former Eagles D-line coach) Tommy Brasher. Charlie Sadler from college, Ernie McMillian from high school. You put all that stuff together, you got a lot of good defensive minds there.”
Then there was an All-Star camp in Las Vegas, sponsored by rap star Snoop Dogg, where Thomas coached one of the teams.
“I taught them the things I leaned in the pros, and we were running it within a week,’’ Thomas said.
From there he started running camps in Las Vegas and Houston, before returning to Philadelphia where his NFL career began. Thomas has had stints as an Arena Football League coach for the Philadelphia Soul and on Philly sports talk radio, but he said the most rewarding experience was as an assistant coach for Robbinsville High School.
“(Playing youth football) teaches kids camaraderie and responsibility,” Thomas said. “The youth sports I’ve been involved with, the kids needed to have good grades to play, so there’s responsibility right there.
“I’ve always enjoyed dealing with kids. When you teach a kid something and you see him learn and do what he’s taught, it’s refreshing. It’s gratifying. It’s truly fulfilling.”
Thomas played high school football at Sumner High School in St. Charles, Missouri