Bills great Thurman Thomas helps recognize Award for Excellence finalist Morgan Oldfield

DANSVILLE — Just a sophomore, Morgan Oldfield of Dansville, is one of 25 national finalists for the U.S. Army-Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence. Just 25 students across the nation made the final cut, made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors.

If a large group of soldiers from the Army, the entire student body of Dansville including teachers and coaches was not enough to honor Oldfield's achievement, another guest stopped by the school Thursday afternoon.

Former Buffalo Bills running back and NFL Hall of Fame member Thurman Thomas made a presentation, then had a long conversation with Oldfield and her family.

"Being considered amongst the other 24 finalists for the U.S. Army Pro-Football Hall of Fame award for excellence is truly and honor. An honor I would not have been able to accomplish without the encouragement of my many role models, inspirations, leaders, and friends," said Oldfield, wearing a new U.S. Army and Hall of Fame jacket.

"This bond comes in a special variety of many forms; as a teacher, a counselor, an administrator, a coach, a teammate, a friend, and family. I would like to thank all of my teachers for your encouragement in my academics, and consistent support in achieving my scholastic goals. I would like to thank all of my counselors. Each of you has contributed to my absolute joy and enthusiasm for learning. You have enhanced my high school experience to ensure I reach my full potential in all that I do."

Finalists were determined based on athletic, academic and civic achievements. Oldfield "demonstrated excellence in all they do and an understanding of the importance of adaptability and versatility when working as a team," Army officials said.

Thomas, who statistically is among the top five running backs of all-time and still holds many post-season records, played in four Super Bowls with the Bills. He spoke and introduced Oldfield.

"The road to the Hall of Fame demands commitment and hard work on and off the playing field. To reach that level of excellence it requires a variety of skills, dedication to teamwork, and responsibility and versatility," said Thomas. "Skills instilled in every U.S. Army soldier. That is why this partnership is a perfect fit, and why we are pleased to honor today’s recipient, and pass on those lessons that I have learned to you.

"What does it mean to be a Pro-Football Hall of Fame? It means a lot. It means that I worked my tail off, but I also had other players and people that helped get me here today. I would really like to send a shout out to my mom. It wasn’t always easy being an only child," Thomas continued. "Anytime anything was broken I was the only one around. Growing up with a single parent, my mom did a lot for me, she worked a couple of jobs just to get me through junior high school. In high school my mother got married and I had a stepfather to support me. It was my mom that really did it. One of these days I am going to the National Football League. That was my goal. First I had to get a scholarship at Oklahoma State University. I got the scholarship back in 1984, and I said after I finish I will make one more promise … even if I do make it to the National Football League I still want to be able to get my degree."

Thomas then told the packed gym in Dansville, "I just now finished up only 16 hours short of graduating from Oklahoma State University. That is something I am still working for. Hard work and determination really got me into where I am at."

Oldfield will find out if she is the national champion at a luncheon on Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio during the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Week. Oldfield and her family and friends will attend the Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals on Thursday, Aug. 3 and attend the 2017 Enshrinement Ceremony as Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley, Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, LaDainian Tomlinson and Kurt Warner will join Thomas in the Hall of Fame.

Several awards were presented by the U.S. Army to Dansville coaches and teachers. Oldfield recognized that first after Thomas introduced her to speak.

"First of all, congratulations to everyone here today that got awards. I am so thankful for Emily who did a nice job on the National Anthem. I am overjoyed and immensely humbled to be sharing this experience with each and every one of you. I am especially grateful to the US Army and Pro-Football Hall of Fame for support of our country's academics, athletics, and service," Oldfield said. "I would especially like to thank Thurman Thomas.

"Thank you to my administrators for always having my best interest at heart. You so diligently instilled in me the principles our school stands for; courage, honor, and commitment. Thank you to all of my coaches for the multiple sports in which I participated," Oldfield continued. "Your unwavering confidence in me and the encouragement you bestow upon me of my own capabilities I have on and off the field when sometimes I doubt myself. Thank you to everyone I have ever had as a teammate. I will cherish the growth and the memories as well as the unbreakable bonds that were established to help us reach our full potential."

Like Thomas, Oldfield then thanked her family.

"Thank you to my family, especially my mother (Amy) for instilling in me the key principles of life. You taught me integrity, respect, self-worth, dedication, persistence, commitment, and loyalty. Thank you for loving me unconditionally and pushing me to strive for greatness," Oldfield said. "I would not be the person I am today without you all. Thank you again US Army Pro-Football Hall of Fame for this amazing opportunity to be recognized in excellence. I believe that excellence is a drive within us to pursue the path we strive to reach our full potential."

After the top student-athletes names were read, the assembly was dismissed and Thomas reflected on the award.

"I talked to a lot of Hall of Famers around the USA who do this. Yesterday, I had a conversation with John Randle (former Minnesota Vikins great who entered the Hall of Fame in 2010). It never gets old," said Thomas. "You love to share your stories about what it takes to be a leader, to do hard work, that's what the finalist is all about. They need leadership, athletics and a GPA and Morgan represents all of that very well for her school and I am glad she is on her way to Canton."

Oldfield found out she was a finalist earlier this spring.

"When I first found out, I got the call after a brutal track practice and I was stoked and overwhelmed with joy," she said. "And everyone at practice was looking at me funny!"

Oldfield said growing up in Dansville made the honor even more special.

"The advantage of Dansville is, we are such a tight-knit community that no matter what, we always support each other," Oldfield said. "A common death impacts everyone. We come together and support each other in good times and bad. Today, it was great to have everyone here and quite an honor."