LANSING | Poor Tom Padjen. The assistant coaches at T.F. South love making fun of his old-school ways.
"Hey, Tom, show 'em your flip phone."
"Nothing changes with Tom and our uniforms. In 36 years, same style, same color, same everything."
"Tom, do you know how to text yet?"
"Any change is radical for Tom. Like a calculator."
The staff's zingers were flying Thursday but it was all in fun as T.F. South graduate Pierre Thomas, star running back of the New Orleans Saints, presented T.F. South with a $13,000 check for a complete set of new varsity football uniforms.
No one had asked Thomas for a helping hand. He stepped forward after learning South's players were still wearing uniforms from way back in the day.
"Our jerseys get handed down from varsity to sophomores to freshmen, so freshmen will end up wearing them for 12 or 15 years," Padjen said. "The last new complete set of away jerseys ... I can't tell you when we got those.
"We replace so many every year. We try to get a dozen or two to fill in for the ones that are too bad to wear."
With a swoop of the pen, Thomas brought smiles to the faces of this year's team.
"It's huge with the way budgets continue to be cut," Padjen said of new uniforms. "There's no way, because you have to take care of protective equipment (first). A helmet's over $200. Shoulder pads are about the same.
"So when you're talking about outfitting a kid to play football, you're talking big bucks."
Particularly when Padjen is expecting 70 kids on varsity.
There is one change with this year's uniforms, a change Padjen calls "dramatic." The game pants for away games will be red, not the traditional T.F. South silver.
Thomas presented the check to booster club treasurer Gail Kapovich during an informal ceremony Thursday morning at the high school field.
She then forwarded it to Lansing Sports Shop co-owner Tony Rosati, who carries the St. Louis-based TAG (Team Athletic Gear) apparel line that will have the uniforms ready by the Week 3 game at Oak Forest.
Five years ago, Thomas nominated his high school for an NFL grant and Padjen said the program received money for new helmets and shoulder pads.
"I want everybody to feel like they're part of a team, to look presentable and feel good," Thomas said. "I asked Padjen, 'Hey, you guys haven't gotten new uniforms since the last time I've been here (as a player)? You guys been keeping it the same? C'mon, coach. You can't be doin' that.'
"These kids want a new feeling, a new vibe, a new attitude, so this is my way of giving them a fresh start. Hopefully, this season, they can go out there and show we're the 'new' T.F. South and everybody will love that."
Thomas also is aware of the budget cuts that have crippled education in many communities.
"This is something I can do," he said. "I love T.F. South, the coaches here who helped me through hard times.
"I still care about this school, this team. Giving back just makes you feel good. It's the right thing."