After more than 30 years, a man who is now a coach at Trimble Tech High School finally got to meet Raymond Clayborn, the school's first Ring of Honor inductee.
An idea to motivate a football team turned into a 35-year dream come true for one of the coaches at Trimble Tech High School in Fort Worth.
"It's Christmas! I felt like a two-year-old at Christmas," exclaimed Mark Thomas, assistant football coach.
"He cried," joked head football coach Dwayne Henry.
The 2012 football season hasn't been very good for the Bulldogs. They've only won one game.
Henry and Thomas wanted to motivate the boys. Thomas turned to the past for the answer.
"My parents graduated from here in 60's," said Thomas.
Thomas' dad Jerry returned to his alma mater to coach football, and young Mark was often at his side.
"I walked the halls of this school when I was little," remembered Mark Thomas. "I remember the football heroes, heroes, to me, anyway."
Little did Thomas know he would follow his dad's path and also coach football at Trimble Tech.
"When I was hired to come here, the walls were blank," Thomas said. "We always have documents of our past, but our football kids had no understanding of who came before them."
"We wanted to do something to motivate the kids," said Henry. "Somehow, Raymond Clayborn's name came up. We found out a cousin of his was on our team."
Clayborn played for Trimble Tech in the early 70's. The speed of No. 49 set him apart from the other players. After graduating Tech in 1973, Raymond signed to play football and run track for the University of Texas. Several of his records still stand: fourth in kick-off returns, fourth in return yardage and, he still has the seventh longest rush in Texas history.
The New England Patriots picked Clayborn in the first round of the NFL draft in 1977. He stayed with the Patriots for 13 years, then spent two more with the Cleveland Browns before retiring. Still today, his 101-yard kick off return holds the third spot in the Patriots' record book.
Clayborn's name instantly registered with the Tech coaches. They saw an opportunity to unite the past and present in a meaningful way.
"We asked him (the player) to get Clayborn's number, and he brought it back the next day. And Mark (Thomas) called him out of the blue."
Clayborn was one of the players on Thomas' dad's team back in the '70s. And when Clayborn turned pro, Thomas rushed to get his new trading card.
"I got it in 1977 at a grocery store in Crowley. I was almost nine years old," said Thomas.
When Thomas realized he was just a phone call away from a football legend, he wasted no time reaching out to make a big request.
"I took a shot." said Thomas as he recited the conversation. "He answered off the bat. I said, 'Is this Raymond Clayborn?' He said, 'Yes.' 'From Trimble Tech?' 'Yes.'"
Thomas asked Clayborn to come back to his old high school to be the first inductee of its Ring of Honor.
"I said, 'Heck ya. What took you so long?' joked Clayborn.
It was a big moment, too, for a man who grew up watching Clayborn play and still had that trading card he bought so many years ago.
"I couldn't sleep," said Thomas. "I couldn't wipe the smile off my face."
Just a few weeks after that phone conversation, Clayborn was back at Trimble Tech. He lives in Katy now with his wife, 17-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. He paid his own way to return to Fort Worth for an honor decades in the making.
"I'm glad to accept this honor," Clayborn, 57, said. "Hopefully, it'll give them (today's players) the initiative to go out there and do their very best ... I wanna motivate them on."
"A lot of players don't see more than playing football. This will let them know they can make it," echoed Henry. "And they need something to fall back on, which is education."
"Nobody knows Raymond played in a Super Bowl or was three-time All Pro. So which kid are we coaching today who could have this someday? We have to honor those who made the trail before us," explained Thomas. "It is our hope and prayer that this will kick start a needed tribute to those who make this school great."