Chicago Bears rookie linebacker J.T. Thomas became the inspirational story of the lockout-dominated NFL offseason Monday, a few days after escorting a wheelchair-bound teen to her middle school dance.
The former West Virginia standout last month met 14-year-old Joslyn Levell, who uses a wheelchair. During that meeting, she told him that all of the boys she had asked to the dance turned her down.
Levell, who attends Suncrest Middle School in Morgantown — where the university is located — has spina bifida, a condition that prevents the spinal cord from developing properly.
"I hugged her and signed a few things and we talked for awhile and she cried a bit," Thomas told NFL.com about meeting Levell. "I gave her a hug and told her everything would work itself out."
Shortly after the meeting, Thomas’ stepmother called the school and Levell’s parents to make sure it would be OK for her hulking stepson to pop the question.
"After so many people turned me down, this was so big especially, because he asked me instead of me asking him," Levell said.
Though not a household name to NFL fans around the country, the 22-year-old Thomas is a star in Morgantown after being a three-year starter for the Mountaineers.
According to NFL.com, Thomas picked up Levell on Friday night in a rented black Chrysler, and brought her roses and a corsage. When they arrived, Thomas danced with Levell after she introduced him to many of the same boys who had declined to be her date for the dance.
"This was Joslyn’s night," Thomas said. "It wasn’t about me."
"It was so exciting," Levell added. "I’m just so excited to go to school and see what everyone has to say."
Thomas’ 7-year-old brother, Jared, is autistic and rides the same school bus as Levell. For years Thomas has been involved in autism awareness, and his agent, Michael Giorgio, said his client did not attend the dance for publicity.
"J.T. did this on his own accord; this wasn’t a publicity stunt," Giorgio said. "He didn’t do this to score points with anybody or with the Bears or to get any attention. This is just who he is. He’s got a big heart."