Zach Thomas isn't quite sure what to make of the way college football has evolved since his days as a linebacker at Texas Tech from 1992-1995. Big 12 football, with its no-huddle offenses and empty backfields, isn't quite what he remembers from the old Southwest Conference.
But college football certainly remembers him.
Thomas will be among 17 players and coaches inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Foundation Awards Ceremony on Tuesday. The former Miami Dolphins star made 390 tackles as a Red Raider, was a two-time Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year, and a unanimous first-team All-American.
Thomas credited two inspirations: former Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, who joins Thomas in the 2015 College HOF class, and his older brother and Texas Tech teammate, Bart Thomas.
"I'm from the Texas panhandle and we're near Norman, Okla., and we always saw (Bosworth's) games. Watching Bosworth, how he controlled the field from sideline to sideline, it impacted me as a kid to where I had these dreams," Thomas told CFB 24/7. "To go in with that guy, I'm excited. He was fun to watch.
"I followed my brother to Texas Tech. My brother was my idol growing up. I always looked up to him. He's older than me. He was a natural athlete and made everything look easy. I always wanted to be like him, and that pushed me to work hard. He was fast, tall -- he went to state in five events in track -- (and) played basketball, too. He was all-everything."
Thomas went on to a 13-year career in the NFL, 12 of them with the Dolphins. He was selected to seven Pro Bowls before retiring in 2010. Thomas maintains various business holdings and keeps up the best he can with three young children. He's come a long way from Lubbock, Texas, where former Red Raiders coach Spike Dykes decided to give Thomas a chance that few others would. Undersized for a linebacker, Thomas was lightly recruited and had only two scholarship offers, both of which were late-arriving: Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
At 5-foot-11, he developed into a Butkus Award (top college linebacker) finalist while facing a lot of ground-based offensive attacks that aren't much in style in today's college game.
"Now, it's all about opening up the field and finding mismatches. The quarterbacks are releasing the ball quick and in rhythm. When you open up the field, you used to make the quarterback more vulnerable," Thomas said. "Now they've phased out the fullback. It's the new era, and it's changed, and you've got to change with it. The Patriots open up the field and protect Brady at the same time. That's how they get these mismatches and put up a lot of points. Linebackers aren't taking on fullbacks and guards in the hole much anymore -- now it's more about how well you can run."