Former Texas Tech Red Raiders linebacker Zach Thomas was officially enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Already a member of the Texas Tech Football Ring of Honor and Hall of Fame, Thomas now becomes the first Red Raider in program history to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Furthermore, Thomas is just the third Miami Dolphins defensive player to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining linebacker Nick Buoniconti and defensive end Jason Taylor.
“I am truly honored and humbled to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Thomas said in February upon learning he would be a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2023. “Growing up in Texas, I dreamed of paying football at any level. To have played at Texas Tech and then be drafted by the Dolphins was the ultimate. It was indeed a dream come true. I want to thank my family for all the sacrifices they made for me over the years. I could never have accomplished this without your love and support.
“Thank you to all of my teammates. Each of you made me a better player and are a big part of where I am today. I’m looking forward to celebrating this with all of you. Thanks to all my coaches, trainers and equipment staff for helping this honor become a reality. Lastly, I want to thank the Dolphins fans. Your support means everything to me.”
Following a stellar collegiate career with the Red Raiders, Thomas was selected by Miami in the fifth round of the 1996 NFL Draft. He quickly proved to be a steal, finishing his rookie campaign with 154 combined tackles (120 solo), two sacks, three interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown, five pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. Thomas was named the 1996 AFC Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
The former Texas Tech standout wound up posting at least 120 combined tackles in 10 of his 13 NFL seasons. Thomas registered 1,734 total tackles over the course of his NFL career, which is the fifth-most in league history. He led the NFL in tackles in 2002 and 2006.
Thomas was a seven-time Pro Bowler and earned First-Team All-Pro honors five times. He was named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team in 2010. Thomas also led the Dolphins to the playoffs for five consecutive years (1997-2001) and registered 22 combined tackles (14 solo) in a 2001 Wild Card playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
“The most unnerving thing about playing Miami was Zach Thomas calling out all of your plays,” Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning said in 2020. “He caused the most problems for me of any player I have ever faced.”
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.”