That's not an uncommon reaction generated by nationally-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes, a Natchitoches native and a Demon freshman in 1974. Bailes and his youngest son Clint spent more than an hour with NSU's players and coaches before Tuesday afternoon's practice.
Since 1994, he has been a neurological consultant to the NFL Players Association, and has been an advisor to the NCAA and is medical director for Pop Warner Football, the largest youth sports association in the country. Bailes and his lifelong friend and NSU teammate Jack "Britt" Brittain Jr. spoke to the players about their days as Demons while Thomas and his coaches relished the opportunity to talk with the Chicago-based surgeon and researcher, vacationing in his hometown, about the evolution of the game and player safety.
Bailes offered to include NSU's team in an ongoing study which supplies some players with helmets that monitor the number and intensity of collisions, an excessive amount which can lead to concussions and other brain injuries.
"It's a great opportunity to be part of cutting edge research," said Thomas. "I would love to know the science. I'm really big on this. For years we've counted reps during the week, to be sure we weren't overworking them, or not doing enough, and we've counted contact reps for the big guys on the line of scrimmage. They can get violent impacts every snap.
"It would be huge for us, for me as a football coach, to gain this knowledge, and he offered us the chance to get involved in this research. It's an honor," said Thomas. "This turned out to be a beautiful thing today, him taking time to talk with our players, share his memories of being in their shoes.
"He talked about what it meant to be a Demon, and what that experience and playing football as a younger fellow influenced his life. The fact that we're back to using the same practice fields they did in his year here resonated with our guys. He's been in their shoes, walked their path," said Thomas.
"Now he's one of the most renowned brain surgeons and experts in sports science in America and the world, and a lot of what he has done and is doing traces back to growing up here, playing youth football, high school football, college football, and getting the foundation for his education and his professional career."
Visiting with Thomas and his staff, Bailes was pleased to find coaches who are progressive in their approach.
"He talked about his son Clint starting youth football this year, and how he is a big proponent of football, but on the flip side, how it can be better, smarter, safer football. The science part of it is what I was digging," said Thomas. "We all benefitted greatly in an hour with Dr. Bailes. He's kind enough to lend his support and willingness to help Demon football."
The Demons' approach to contact, conditioning and practice schedules has roots as far back as the era of Louisiana Sports of Fame trainer Dr. Marty Broussard's innovative career at LSU, and was inspired when Thomas was a graduate assistant at LSU in 1987-88 helping legendary assistant coach Pete Jenkins coach the defensive linemen.
Thomas limited the amount of contact and practice time during 14 years, the last six as head coach, at Nicholls State from 2004-09. The Demons now rarely practice with live tackling and typically use a "thud" tempo that curtails contact at 45 snaps daily and all but eliminates harsh collisions and tackling players to the ground.