North High junior Ian Kelley never saw Barry Sanders play football with the Detroit Lions before the running back retired before the 1999 season. But Kelley, 16, knows all about the Hall of Fame running back from North.
"My knowledge of Barry Sanders was from collecting football cards when I was growing up, and from my parents," Kelley said. "My mom went to school here."
Thursday, Kelley will get a chance to see Sanders up close when Sanders returns to North as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Hometown Hall of Famers program.
Sanders will be at North for a 2 p.m. pep rally in the gymnasium for students and some in the North community.
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He graduated from North in 1986, won the 1988 Heisman Trophy while at Oklahoma State and was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection. With the Lions, Sanders had 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards and 109 touchdowns.
"The students are pumped up and ready to show him the tradition we still carry on from when he went here," Kelley said. "We want to show him we still carry the North High tradition, the spirit, we can still get loud, still get proud."
That tradition is important at North.
"We want the kids to realize that you go to a school that has tradition that's bigger than all of us," North principal Sherman Padgett said. "North is really special. It's unique that we're happy to be here, that you feel like it's home and family. You're proud of your school."
And North should be even more proud because Sanders was allowed to choose where he wanted to display the plaque he will receive at the pep assembly. He chose North.
"This is important to show our kids that anything is possible and anything can be accomplished if you put your mind to it," North athletic director Brian Becker said. "To have someone as notable as Barry and to see him in person and see him being honored, that will motivate them and be a great example for what they can accomplish."
George Veras, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises president and CEO, designed the program to honor those who helped the hall of famers succeed. Howie Long, Joe Namath and Sonny Jurgensen have already been honored.
"This isn't so much about honoring the player, but the community and the roots, those people who helped that player become a hall of famer," Veras said. "That's what makes it special."