LANSING | It was a shining moment for 11-year-old Will Melby on Thursday when he caught a touchdown pass from New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas.
Melby, of St. John, was participating in the Pierre Thomas Skills Camp at T.F. South.
"This is something you think will never happen," said Melby, who was all smiles when talking about his catch. "I never thought I would even be able to be on the same field with an NFL star or catch a pass from him."
Thomas led the Rebels to the 2002 Class 6A semifinals. He went on to star at Illinois before playing in the NFL.
Melby, whose father, Bill, coached at Gavit and Lake Central, was one of nearly 100 participants.
Thomas said his goal in holding the camp was to get kids moving and fight childhood obesity. The camp was free and all campers received a T-shirt courtesy of T.F. South, Lansing Sports Shop and Thomas' iCAN Foundation.
"It touched home with me because one of my nephews is overweight and these kids don't realize the problems this can cause later," Thomas said. "My nephew was skinny when I went away to college and I didn't see him for some time, and he gained a lot of weight."
Thomas is preaching to kids to not be sedentary. His foundation also has a rooftop garden in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood.
"They have to get way from sitting around and playing video games all day," Thomas said. "Get up and do something for a half-hour, an hour day. Get moving and we also teach them to eat right."
Eight-year-old Liam Walker, whose dad Vince is a T.F. South graduate and godfather is South athletic director Marc Brewe, loved the opportunity to learn from an NFL star.
"I think it is pretty cool that he comes back here and works with us," Walker said. "He is a big star, but he also showed he is a nice guy to come back here."
Thomas' high school coach, Tom Padjen, said Thomas is an example for young student-athletes.
"Pierre loves coming home, and for him to teach skills to these young kids is great," Padjen said. "It is not just about football, but teaching them to be good citizens, and he is certainly an example of that."
T.F. South senior lineman Rapahel Canty agreed.
"He is an example of someone who had success from a somewhat small school," Canty said. "It is kind of neat to be here on the same field with him and realizing that you are playing on the same field and go to the same school Pierre Thomas did."