Kyle Shanahan called then-rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas the biggest surprise of the San Francisco 49ers’ 2021-2022 season. 49ers fans won’t soon forget his game-sealing interception to send San Francisco to the playoffs last January. He very well could be a star-in-the-making.
But perhaps more important than any of that is the work that the University of Michigan-alum is doing in underserved communities around the world.
“At Michigan, we always did little trips, like going to Rome and Italy, just seeing other parts of the world – South Africa, Cape Town, Johannesburg – just seeing all that and seeing how people live and knowing that everybody doesn’t have the lifestyle you have,” Thomas said. “That was put in my head at a young age. I wanted to help them give back.”
This past offseason, Thomas traveled with Mercy-USA and Muslims Of the World for six days to bring clean water to Somaliland, Africa and to raise awareness about the impoverished conditions in the region, as Somaliland is experiencing a terrible drought.
“The first day we were there, we went to this first water reservation…,” Thomas said. “We just introduced ourselves to the community, just trying to get familiar with them and get comfortable with the kids and just wanted to let them know that we were here to help them. Then the second day we went back…that’s when we brought in our water trucks. That felt great, because we brought our soccer balls and candy. And the kids were eating it up and loving everything and it just brought light to me to see little kids that excited over something kids here would think is so simple. So it brought light to me and it made me want to help and do more for them.”
Thomas is entering his second NFL season. After opting out of 2020 at Michigan due to the pandemic, the corner had to adjust to the NFL, while also getting back into playing shape. It was a tough start for Thomas, but when he got his opportunity late in the season, he delivered. It showed a level of maturity that is also apparent in the work he’s doing off of the field.
“For a young guy to do the things that he’s done, it’s great to see that because you don’t see many young guys get in, but I think you just see the guy’s heart,” said 49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. “You see what he’s truly about. You see his character right off the bat. If that’s the first thing he wants to do in his first true offseason is to go and help out, go and reach back and help the community. So it was cool to see that from Ambry and he’s still growing as a player, as a young man…and he’ll continue to ascend and be better.”
Thomas recently started the Ambry Thomas Adversity Strengths Foundation, whose mission is to provide financial assistance to children in Detroit for sports camps, books, laptops and other supplies and programs they may need.
“Initially, I wanted it to be something like a Boys and Girls Club and recreation center that offers coding classes, financial literacy, just everything I feel like the school system is not teaching,” said Thomas, whose goal is to have that finalized in the fall.
On May 28, Thomas hosted a community event in his hometown of Detroit.
“I just wanted to let Detroit know I’m here to help them, and that there are still good people in Detroit that are trying to help and give back to the community,” Thomas said. “…[I]t was good just to help and give back; just help the kids honestly. ‘Cause I know growing up in Detroit, it’s easy to get caught up in the streets, or this and that. And it’s so hard just to stay focused when you have so many negative influences pulling you all different directions. So, I wanted to let the kids know that I did it, you can do it too.”
Thomas said that 49ers’ defensive lineman Arik Armstead and now-Broncos’ defensive lineman D.J. Jones have both inspired him to do more in the community, and now Thomas is doing the same for his teammates.
“I have people all around me that continue to inspire me, whether it just be the younger generation, older generation, and like Ambry, my generation too,” said 49ers’ safety Talanoa Hufanga. “Just having him by my side, he’s just been a big mentor to me, because he is older than me. It’s been really nice to kind of just have him take me under his wing and really show me the ropes.”
Thomas leads by example and is a resource for his teammates that want to get involved.
“I feel like with something like that, it’s either you got love for, or you don’t,” Thomas said. “So if you got love for it and want to learn all about the kids, then come on, but if your love is not really there, I’m not going to force you because kids is something I’m really passionate about.”
*Header photo provided by 49ers.com