Zach Thomas enters Pro Football Hall of Fame

Zach Thomas is officially a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Long regarded as one of the top linebackers in both college football and NFL history, the Pampa native and Texas Tech great was formally inducted among the all-time greats Saturday during the Class of 2023 Enshrinement at Tom Benson hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, the site of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"I'm humbled to be the first Red Raider to be inducted into the Hall of Fame," said Thomas during his induction speech. "Thank you to the late Spike Dykes, John Goodner and my fellow Red Raider teammates and staff. I will always be grateful for what you did for me. Wreck 'Em!"

Thomas spent 12 of his 13 NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins, quickly establishing himself as one of the league's most-consistent players not long after being selected in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft out of Texas Tech. Thomas was the 154th overall pick of that draft class, but few before him possessed the same drive that defined his career.

Always considered too small for the position, Thomas silenced his doubters with 10 seasons of at least 100 tackles, eventually finishing his career with 1,734 stops, the fifth-highest total in league history (since records began in 1987). He was a seven-time selection to the Pro Bowl, the most all-time for a Dolphins defender, and a two-time NFL Linebacker of the Year honoree.

Measuring 5-foot-11 and weighing 228 pounds, Thomas was initially overlooked due to his less-than-ideal frame. Despite earning unanimous All-American recognition as a senior with the Red Raiders in 1995, Thomas didn’t look the part of a standard NFL linebacker, which plummeted his draft stock. But the Dolphins took a flier on Thomas and he wound up becoming one of the best linebackers in NFL history.

“It’s not about your size,” Thomas, who is just the third linebacker under six feet tall to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, said on Thursday. “It doesn’t matter if you come from a small town. It’s up to you. And if you love something, that’s all it’s about. I was obsessed with [football]. Didn’t try to think too far ahead. Never got discouraged. Just kept believing in myself and betting on myself.”

Behind Thomas, the Dolphins developed into one of the NFL's top defensive units. Thomas was named the 1996 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year and soon after, helped push Miami to a run of seven-consecutive seasons in the league's top 10 for total defense. His prowess for reading opposing offenses earned Thomas the reputation from opposing quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning, as one of the most difficult players to either get out of position.

Thomas becomes the third Dolphins defensive player in team history to be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining linebacker Nick Buoniconti and defensive end Jason Taylor. He is the 11th player or coach from the Miami Dolphins to earn the NFL's greatest honor.

Additionally, Thomas becomes the first Red Raider in program history to be named an inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thomas is already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame as a 2015 inductee as well as the Texas Tech Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame. According to the National Football Foundation, Thomas is one of only 151 players out of 5.62 million who have played college football that are now members of both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fames.

Thomas remains a celebrated figure in Texas Tech history after a stellar four-year career where he led the Red Raiders to three bowl games. Thomas was a two-time Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year honoree as well as a finalist for the prestigious Butkus Award.

Overlooked by most Division I schools due to his size, former Texas Tech head coach Spike Dykes saw something in Thomas that others didn't. His gamble paid off as Thomas went on to become a unanimous first-team All-American still ranks fifth all-time with 390 career tackles, including 131 during his senior season. He also totaled six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

Thomas' game-winning interception return for touchdown in the 1995 game against arch-rival Texas A&M ranks as one of the most celebrated single plays in school history. The play continues to garner thunderous reaction when played for the fans at home games in Jones AT&T Stadium and helped cement his legacy as one of the best players to ever wear a Texas Tech uniform.

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