NFF College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: Zach Thomas
ASN will profile all 17 new members in advance of the Dec. 8 NFF awards dinner in New York City.
Zach Thomas’ memory remains vivid of one of the biggest plays in Texas Tech football history. After all, being prepared was something that Thomas, the Red Raiders’ star linebacker, prided himself. The fact that rival Texas A&M had told him he was too small to play for the Aggies also had to be a thought lingering in his mind as he stepped up to make the biggest interception of his collegiate career .
“Before playing Texas A&M, all week I was sitting out and was sick (strep throat),” Thomas remembered of the 1995 game against the eighth-ranked Aggies in Lubbock during his senior season. “All I did was watch videotape after videotape. I got in the game and always had wanted to beat Texas A&M. They didn’t want to play for a tie. That was why they were trying to get in field goal range (at the end) to win the game.”
It was then that Thomas faked a blitzed, stepped in front of the intended receiver, and returned Texas A&M quarterback Corey Pullig’s pass 23 yards for a touchdown with 30 seconds remaining. The touchdown broke a 7-7 tie and ended a 29-game Aggies’ league winning streak. After Thomas had endured three straight losses to the Aggies during his collegiate career, he finally had a 14-7 victory that eventually allowed Texas Tech to tie Texas A&M and Baylor for second place during the final season of the old Southwest Conference. The Red Raiders finished the 1995 season with a 9-3 record after beating Air Force in the Copper Bowl.
Entering the 2015 season, two decades after he last played for the Red Raiders, Thomas still ranked No. 5 in career tackles with 390, including 131 during his senior season. He was named the consensus SWC Defensive Player of the Year in both his junior and senior seasons. As a junior in 1994, he helped Texas Tech to a share of the SWC title and a berth in the Cotton Bowl.
Lightly recruited out of Pampa in the Texas Panhandle because of his smallish size and pedestrian speed, Thomas overcame those deficiencies to eventually become a seven-time Pro Bowl Selection with the Miami Dolphins.
“You can say coaching had something to do with it,” Thomas said of his rise to stardom. “I had a position coach in high school. He had a read that he drew up on a napkin. He told me if you get this down, you can take it to every play…I polished it up, but it was the same in high school all the way to the last play in the pros. You never focus on one person. It is a blur. The first step was the most important step. What I did was anticipate plays.”
Thomas has been inducted into both the Texas Tech Athletics and Southwest Conference halls of fame.
"Zach Thomas is one of the great Texas Tech football players of all time," said Texas Tech Director of Athletics Kirby Hocutt. "His spirit, determination and work ethic were an inspiration to his teammates, and 20 years later we continue to admire and celebrate all that he was able to accomplish. This is a tremendous honor for Zach, his family and for Texas Tech, and we are grateful that he will forever be acknowledged as one of the game's elite players."
Above: Despite being an the small size, Zach Thomas played big on the field for Texas Tech. (Courtesy Texas Tech Athletics)