RAND, W.Va. (AP) -``Big Mike'' Thomas' daily ritual as head custodian at DuPont Middle School starts by unlocking the doors to the gymnasium and looking high on the wall at a photo of his good friend, Randy Moss.
In an adjacent hallway, Thomas glances into a trophy case honoring Moss, ex-teammate Jason Williams and the school's predecessor, DuPont High, for feats accomplished more than a decade ago.
Thomas can't help but whistle while he works these days. Moss, a rare success story from a poor community near Charleston, is going for football's biggest prize on Sunday.
``If you can make it and get out of here, yeah, you're pretty lucky,'' Thomas said. ``That's my boy, doing his thing. The Super Bowl. He's a hometown hero.''
And Thomas is more than the cleanup crew.
The janitor-turned-jetsetter is part of a small circle of friends that Moss flies at his expense to see games or meet up for a weekend at the player's home. Minneapolis, Oakland, New England, and many points in between.
``He was always the greatest to us anyway. I wish you could see him as we see him,'' Thomas said with a chuckle. ``All we do is we sit at the house and crack jokes on each other.''
There's also a softer side to Moss few people know about.
``You would be amazed to see how kindhearted - he loves kids,'' Thomas said.
Moss' generosity with his friends and children back home often goes unnoticed.
He's arranged for busloads of area children to attend professional football and basketball games and area amusement parks. He has held autograph sessions for children in Charleston nearly every year since turning pro and he sponsors community events.
As a child, ``He never got a chance to go to a professional game because, first of all, his momma couldn't afford it and didn't know nobody,'' said Carol Hodge, a substitute teacher at DuPont Middle School who has known Moss since birth.
``He is really trying to give back,'' she said. ``He's doing it in his own way and his own time.''
Susan Duernberger taught Moss in ninth-grade civics and he played sports with her son. Moss appeared in a video on her behalf in competition for a teaching award.
``I used to tease him that he helped make me teacher of the year, so I was going to make him athlete of the year,'' Duernberger said.
Moss grew up in a single-parent home with three siblings six miles from the state Capitol. Rand, a town of about 2,500 residents, is a mix of trailers and modest homes squeezed between railroad tracks, U.S. Route 60 and mountains on one side and the Kanawha River a few blocks to the west.
When people go out to eat, they have to leave town. The center of activity is a convenience store not far from Moss' former school. The most noticeable business is a junkyard. A sign with the town's former name, Levi, still stands.
Outside of the school, the only evidence of Moss and his mid-1990s athletic accomplishments is a small, green sign at the town's entrance proclaiming Rand as his hometown.
Moss' inner circle also includes Sam Singleton, Moss' youth football and baseball coach who bought him cleats, often fed him, and was a father figure to him.
``He's Randy's cook, basically,'' Thomas said. ``Randy will eat out. But if Sam's around, he won't want anybody else to cook for him but Sam.''
The frequent flier of the group is Moss' personal assistant, Donnie Jones, who has been to all but one of the Patriots' games this season.
He was hired during Moss' rookie season in 1998 with the Vikings. Jones started out by being in charge of reading Moss' fan mail. His duties now include running to buy video games for Moss' PlayStation, arranging to ship Moss' vehicle cross country, or just being an extra set of eyes.
``Whatever he needs, I get it done,'' Jones said.
The one who stands out, though, is Thomas, 51, a popular figure at school whose frequent laughs echo far down the hallway.
His first-ever trip on a plane came in 2000 when he started following Moss in the pros.
With Super Bowl tickets at a premium, Thomas doubts he'll see the game in person, speculating that Moss' immediate family comes first.
``I'm just the kind of guy that when you call, I go. If you don't call, I don't go,'' Thomas said. ``I'm hoping to get to go, I really am. But if I don't, I'm not going to be mad.''
The important thing is the ring.
``He has one more,'' Thomas said. ``We can't do any dancing yet. Like he tells us, I've got one more thing to do.''

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