Famous alumnus wants Willowridge to stay open

During his legendary career at Willowridge High School, Thurman Thomas etched a spot in Texas high school football lore with feats of athleticism so extraordinary they almost seem made up.

He pushed his teammates in sweltering off-season workouts with endless series of sprint repeats as others were on the verge of collapsing.

By just his sophomore season, he led them to one of the most improbable upsets in state history with a game-clinching interception in the 1981 4A state semifinals while playing cornerback on defense.

Most astonishingly, he left their jaws agape in a game against Magnolia with scampers of 70 yards or more on three straight offensive plays. Had Willowridge not been whistled for penalties on all three, Thomas would have scored a touchdown on each run.

"With Thurman, every time he touched the ball you knew it could be special," said Charles Arbuckle, his former teammate at Willowridge, who spent four seasons himself in the NFL with the Colts.

Now, nearly 30 years after leading the Eagles to their only state championship in school history, Thomas is among those who wants the school to remain open.

Concerns mounted last fall when officials with the Fort Bend Independent School District discussed the possibility of closing Willowridge due to declining enrollment. In January, the school board announced that Willowridge will remain open at least until the end of the 2011-12 school year as the district conducts a number of studies on efficient building usage on its 11 high school campuses.

This summer, Thomas has plans to lend his name to a Houston-area golf tournament to raise funds for the football program. The team is hoping to generate $30,000 to $50,000 to offset inherited debt, purchase video and football equipment and cover the costs of team meals, said Willowridge's head varsity football coach, J.C. McDonald.

In Thomas' final two years at Willowridge in 1982 and 1983, he rushed for back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons to earn All-State and All-American honors.

"He had work ethic, competiveness and intelligence," said Neal Quillin, Thomas' former coach at Willowridge. "When you put those together, he was an unstoppable force."

After graduating from Willowridge, he went on to play for Oklahoma State in college and the Buffalo Bills in the NFL. In 2007, he was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.

Thomas, 44, still remembers his exact statistics - 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns - in the 1982 4A State Championship game when Willowridge defeated Corsicana 22-17.

From the time he was a sophomore through his senior season, the Eagles went 39-3 with two berths in the state finals.

Thomas now lives in Buffalo, N.Y., with his wife Patti, daughters Angel and Annika, and son, Thurman III. Olivia, his oldest daughter, attends the University of Florida.

In 2010, he opened the Thurman Thomas Global Energy Group, which works to improve energy efficiency for industrial, commercial and retail customers.

The company has worked with approximately 175 schools in New York to help reduce their electricity costs.

He has plans to expand the company into Texas. One district he hopes to meet with is Fort Bend ISD.

"I think if I can get (the program) in, it just might save Willowridge," Thomas said.

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