WASHINGTON - Working the room yesterday - shaking hands, grinning widely for pictures, signing autographs, shaking more hands - Ravens backup defensive end Adalius Thomas looked like he had mastered the public relations persona of a politician.
It's amazing what four months on Capitol Hill can do.
Thomas, 23, who is preparing for his second year in the NFL with the Ravens, was honored at a reception for congressional interns in a bottom-floor room of the Capitol for his work as an intern in the office of Rep. Danny K. Davis of Illinois.
Taking advantage of NFL Player Development - a program created in 1991 by commissioner Paul Tagliabue to assist players and their families in their lives off the field - the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Thomas worked three days a week, five hours a day, in the congressman's office from March through June.
Serving as a self-described "go-fer," Thomas mostly did secretarial work, including typing memos, sending faxes and copying letters.
But the real education - and perks - came in rubbing elbows with some of the nation's most influential politicians, and in getting to see the government's daily operations up close.
"I've learned a lot, like with the tax cut," said Thomas, referring to the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax-relief package President Bush signed into law June 7. "Just being able to go in and look at the budget and see what's going on - who supports it, who doesn't. It's just small things like that that you don't really notice until you come from the inside looking out instead of the outside looking in."
Experiences like that, Thomas said, made the 112-mile round-trip drive from his Reisterstown home more than worth the cost of gas.
"Gas is high, so it cost me money," said Thomas, who has a three-year contract worth $883,000 that might have made him Washington's wealthiest unpaid intern. "But I think I earned it back in the opportunity to work with the government itself. And learning connections and networking - just knowing people. I think that's what it's all about, especially in the business world."
Thomas, who earned a sports administration degree at Southern Mississippi, initially became interested in spending time on Capitol Hill about eight months ago, when Earnest Byner, the Ravens director of player development, directed his attention to a memo the team had received.
Richard R. Boykin, Davis' chief of staff, had contacted the league about having a player serve as an intern in the office of the 7th District Democrat, a request that was not unprecedented.
Seven players had served as interns on the Hill since the 1998 off-season. One of them included then-Ravens fullback Tony Vinson, who that year worked in the office of Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent, the Hall of Fame wide receiver of the Seattle Seahawks.
When Thomas - known as "A. D." - saw the opportunity Boykin was offering, he called him and expressed his interest.
An ex-athlete with a desire to promote positive actions of athletes, Boykin said he knew Thomas was the man for the job soon after the two met.
"I was so impressed with his poise, with his intelligence, with his wisdom," said Boykin, a former linebacker at Central State University in Ohio. "For a man who's 23, he's probably got the wisdom of someone who's 40. And it was quite refreshing to see that. And so, we decided that we would give him an opportunity."
Thomas made the most of the job. Though scheduled to work only Monday through Wednesday from noon to 5 p.m., he occasionally came in on his off-days or stayed as late as 9 p.m.
Davis, saying he has been "tremendously impressed" with his intern, admitted he will have divided loyalties when the Ravens play the Bears at PSINet Stadium in the season opener Sept. 9. After all, his district takes in a swath of downtown Chicago where Soldier Field is located.
"To have a person like A. D., who has such a tremendous spirit, is a superstar athlete, and is young, but wants to know about government and politics and how his country functions and works, that's been one of the most revealing things for me that I've come into contact with in a long time in terms of hope for the future of our country," said Davis, who has represented the district since 1996. "Meaning that there are, in fact, young people who realize our country didn't just fall out of a Cracker Jack box."
As far as a future career in politics, Thomas was noncommittal.
He is considering, however, a return to Capitol Hill as an intern next year.
"You just never know when your football career may end, so it's just an option that you can keep open," Thomas said. "I never thought about approaching it as far as being a politician, but I guess if you know some people that can do it, you know where to get started."
And if he does end up pursuing a career in public office, Thomas already has one booster.
Ravens linebacker Brad Jackson, who joined Thomas at yesterday's ceremony, earned a political science degree at the University of Cincinnati and thinks his teammate has the panache to be a politician.
"He probably has what it takes. He probably could be my chief or staff or something if I was president," Jackson said, laughing. "I'm more knowledgeable about a lot of things. But he would definitely make a good vice president or chief of staff for me."
NOTES: Kenyon Hambrick, a wide receiver from Alabama A&M; who was not selected in Wednesday's supplemental draft, will take a physical for the Ravens on Thursday and will likely be signed. ... Ravens minority owner Stephen J. Bisciotti has started the process of getting a new practice complex for the team. He has looked at different sites and is still considering the Ravens' present Owings Mills location.