Packers’ Ahmad Thomas connects with birth parents after surviving long odds

Ahmad Thomas spent the latter part of last season on the Green Bay Packers‘ practice squad. The inside linebacker has been getting first-team reps with the defense in training camp in recent days, after Jake Long was lost for the season to a torn ACL, and coach Mike McCarthy has praised his coverage ability.

Making a 53-man roster for the first time — Thomas was undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2017, originally signed by the Oakland Raiders but cut just a few days later — and getting into the rotation would be a big deal for Thomas, and the capper to what has already been a big year.

Calvin Darnell wasn’t supposed to live past age 10

In a story by the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Ryan Wood, we learn Thomas was given a different name when he was born in Florida in 1994: Calvin Darnell. His birth mother, Michelle Hooshing, was just 13 years old and living in foster care when she had him and reluctantly gave him up for adoption when he was a month old.

Green Bay Packers linebacker Ahmad Thomas is hoping to add a roster spot to an already-memorable year. (AP)
Green Bay Packers linebacker Ahmad Thomas is hoping to add a roster spot to an already-memorable year. (AP)

She was told that the baby had a heart murmur and doctors didn’t expect him to live past age 10.

Throughout the years, Hooshing’s searches for Calvin Darnell turned up empty. That’s because when Marvice Thomas adopted the baby Hooshing had to give up, she gave him a new last name, her name.

So when a young man named Ahmad Thomas was contacting Hooshing, claiming to be the son she expected had died from heart issues, she was surprised and confused.

“She thought it was some cruel joke or something,” Thomas said. “But when I told her what my name used to be, she knew it was me.”

After the first email to his birth mother and a phone call that followed, Hooshing found Thomas’ father, Michael Samuel, through a website. Samuel was also 13 when Thomas was born, and told Hooshing he’d long been searching for both her and their son, giving up hope after so many searches weren’t successful.

Thomas invited both Hooshing and Samuel to visit him in Green Bay.

‘Still surreal’

Thomas, his wife, Skyler, and their children welcomed Hooshing and Samuel to their home for three days in February.

“It was like we really didn’t miss a beat,” Thomas said of the visit. “The comfortability was already there, and it was surreal. Still surreal to me. I knew who I was, because my family shaped that. But I didn’t know what I was.”

Skyler Thomas encouraged her husband to look for his birth parents, though for several years he showed little interest. He would tell her that he had a family.

But over time, he changed his mind. At first, he said he needed to know his birth parents to learn his medical history for his children, Skylynn and Ahmad II.

Skyler pushed more.

“I just felt like there was a piece of him that was kind of missing,” she said. “With self-identity, I could tell he needed that as a part of his life so much. I don’t know if he was scared or not really interested, but I knew he needed that, whether he knew [he needed it] at the time or not.

“I think he’s really appreciated that I pushed him in that direction because I don’t think he would’ve gotten to this point without me kind of nudging him along. And I know his mom and his dad are just over the moon excited that they found him.”

During Hooshing and Samuel’s visit, they stayed up into the wee hours talking with the Thomases. Thomas learned that Samuel is a DJ, which is likely where he gets his love of music.

Amazingly, Hooshing and Samuel didn’t just reconnect with their son; they reconnected with each other, and were married in April.

Secret led to trust issues

Though other people in her son’s life knew the truth, Marvice Thomas didn’t tell her son that he was adopted until he was 16.

Maybe it was basic intuition, Thomas said, but he suspected he was adopted before Marvice told him. His football coaches and others knew, and all wondered when was the best time to tell the truth.

“I know they were doing it out of good intentions, but it made it hard for me to trust people,” Thomas said.

His Miami neighborhood didn’t help. Thomas said he saw two people killed in a span of three years.

But he used football as a way to avoid the drugs and violence he saw around him.

“I did channel a lot of anger through football, but I’ve learned how to get past that and just have fun. Because when you play angry, you tend to not be focused,” he said. “In high school, I was going through a lot of things. I was mad, just trying to hit somebody. When I got to college, I had to actually learn a lot more things (about the game). I had to learn how to be more calm coming downhill instead of just trying to crash down and hit people. So I just learned to be more balanced.”

Thomas is glad he sent that first email to Hooshing, and he’s in frequent contact with his birth parents.

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