COPPERAS COVE — Dallas Cowboys cornerback, and former Bulldawg, Orlando “Duke” Thomas returned to Copperas Cove to host his inaugural football clinic Saturday.

“When I left I had several people tell me, ‘Don’t forget to come back to Cove and have a football camp,’ and I stayed true to that,” Thomas said.

Not only did he keep his word but he brought many of his football friends along with him.

After graduating from Copperas Cove, Thomas played for the University of Texas. He brought Clint Martin, assistant coach for athletic performance at UT, to teach the 78 campers in attendance new drills to improve their speed and explosiveness.

“This area isn’t exposed to top-tier training facilities in the Central Texas area,” Thomas said. “So having my guy come out here and teach them some of the drills that I do to help me be more explosive and work on my speed, it’s really the trickle-down effect because they can do these workouts at home and then further develop themselves.”

He also brought along his former Longhorn teammate Nick Rose, who attended Cove his freshman year of high school before moving to the Dallas area.

Not only did Rose play alongside Thomas in college, but he competed against him in the NFL as a kicker for the Washington Redskins last season.

“Its beneficial to show the high school kids that it’s still fun even though he’s in the NFL and doing big things,” said Cove coach Donald Buckram, who was also a former Bulldawg star. “He’s still coming back to his hometown and having fun with the younger generation that went through the same program he went through.

“For them to see him coming back and doing the drills, it talks tenfold to them.”

The opportunity to interact and get tips one-on-one from a professional athlete who once played for the blue and gold was a surreal opportunity for senior quarterback Easton Simpson.

“I got to work out with him actually on Thursday and it shows what I can become,” Simpson said. “It keeps me motivated to keep going and not give up.”

Simpson enjoyed the summer clinic and the opportunity to bond with his teammates.

“Bonding with all the younger kids that are going to be coming up, too,” he added about his favorite part of the event. “Getting to meet some new kids and just working as a team.

“The linemen were doing things they’ve done before but it was fun.”

After not partaking in spring ball because of an offseason coaching change, Simpson believes the summer clinic was much needed.

“It keeps us all focused because we have a big season coming ahead of us and I think we can show some people what we can do, finally.”

Thomas attributed the success of his first clinic to the community support he received from Copperas Cove.

The clinic was free and open to all incoming ninth- through 12th-graders. Participants received a free shirt and food.

Thomas paid for the shirts himself, but various volunteers made the camp work. Former Cove players returned to help run the drill sections. And Cove employees gave their time to help with registration and filling the coolers of water.

“I had a lot of people help me put this thing together,” Thomas said. The free hot dog lunch was provided by the First Baptist Church.

With the success of the first camp, Thomas and Buckram hope to see it continue to grow each summer.

Easton appreciated the opportunity the clinic gave him to grow and bond with his teammates both on and off the field.

“Just being able to get closer to them makes them my brothers and it just gets me excited for the season because I want to be great for them.”

Walking back into Bulldawg Stadium reminded Thomas of his high school days. As he walked around the field from drill station to drill station, Thomas made sure to try to interact with as many of the campers as he could.

“I’m out here today trying to meet as many kids as I can,” he said. “And I’m going to pay attention this football season and see how well they play.”

fcardenas@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7562

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