General manager Brad Holmes took a break Wednesday from preparing for the upcoming NFL free agency period and NFL Draft to speak with students from his high school alma mater, George D. Chamberlain High School in Tampa Bay, Florida, as part of the school's Black History Month initiative.
Holmes was invited to speak to students by Jason Lane, the school's varsity football coach, as a way to celebrate Holmes being named Detroit's general manager this offseason, and to allow Holmes to serve as a role model for the school's student athletes. Holmes was captain of the Chiefs football team in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Holmes went on to play college football at North Carolina A&T, where he was a four-year letterman for the Aggies at defensive tackle, helping them win the black college football national championship in 1999.
As Lane began the call, Holmes' Chamberlain No. 55 jersey was hanging in the background. Lane told Holmes that the school was retiring his jersey and hanging it up in the school's new athletic facility set to open after the summer.
"Guys, I just want to say thank you," Holmes said as his voice cracked with emotion. "Means a lot. It's an honor to be here and to have my jersey retired, which I did not know was going to happen, this is a big shocker to me.
"I can't tell you how much I thank you guys for even having this. This is unbelievable. It's truly humbling to be invited to be a part of you guys and I'm a Chief for life. To have my jersey retired is beyond words. I'm at a loss for words. I can probably say this is one of my best moments in my sports career."
Lane said one of the big reasons he wanted Holmes to talk to his students Wednesday was for them to know that achieving some of the things Holmes has in his life is possible for his students as well, no matter what challenges they may face.
"Through this jersey retirement, it's a constant reminder of what our young men and women can achieve," Lane told Holmes. "Especially if you consider the current population that we're serving and a large number of minorities."
Lane has instituted a 'measures of a man' mantra with his team, which grades and measures their character and community service. Doing the right things off the field are just as important to the program as the things they do on it.
Holmes told the students he looks for high-character and high-intangible players when scouting in the NFL.
Holmes then took questions from four student athletes, covering a number of important topics including overcoming adversity and the advice he would give to young students who are struggling to figure out what they want to do with their lives.
Holmes was open and thoughtful with his responses, spending time engaging with the students and answering those questions. Holmes' biggest message to the students was to be proactive in life instead of reactive.
After the Q&A session, Lane had one more surprise for Holmes. The school invited some of Holmes' family members to Chamberlain to take part in the call, including his mother, Joan, as a surprise for Holmes.
"This is just awesome," Holmes said. "Truly an honor. Truly humbling. I'll be thinking about this for the rest of my life. Thank you."