We’re counting down the 25 best former Texas athletes still competing in their sport. Each day we’ll reveal a new athlete.
When Earl Thomas was in high school at West Orange-Stark he played defensive back, running back and wide receiver. He rushed for 1,850 yards and had 2,140 receiving yards. But he was coming to Texas to play defensive back. The four-star recruit came to campus in 2007 and took a redshirt before debuting in 2008, when he was a freshman All-American and started 13 games with 17 pass break-ups and 63 tackles. Texas was on the cusp of a national title game appearance in 2008, but settled for a win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. His redshirt sophomore season, Thomas was a consensus All-American and first-team All-Big 12 pick. He picked off eight passes and returned two for touchdowns. Texas reached the BCS National Championship Game, but fell to Alabama. Thomas entered the draft shortly after the game.
Pro career: There was once a world we lived in when the NFL universe was flabbergasted the Seattle Seahawks took the 20-year-old Thomas over USC safety Taylor Mays. A lot of that came from those who thought Mays’ former college coach, Pete Carroll, would select him after Seattle hired Carroll a few months earlier. Instead, Carroll picked Thomas, and the rest is history. The third defensive back taken in 2010 has been the best safety in football this decade. He’s made six Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro and two second-team All-Pro selections. Thomas made every Pro Bowl from 2011-2015, missed 2016 with an injury and returned in 2017. He has 642 career tackles, 25 interceptions, 63 pass deflections, 10 forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns. He’s played in two Super Bowls, as part of the dreaded defensive backfield known as the “Legion of Boom” and won Super Bowl XLVIII, where his defense held a record-setting Denver Broncos offense to eight points in a 43-8 win. Thomas was on pace to make a sixth straight Pro Bowl in 2016, but a broken tibia in Week 13 ended his season. He came back the next year and had 56 tackles, two picks and made the Pro Bowl.
Why he’s here: Thomas is still just 29-years-old and yet is already a likely Hall of Famer and, clutch your pearls Longhorn fans, could be the greatest Longhorn pro ever. Earl Campbell, a Pro Football Hall of Famer still has the title with the strength of the 1979 NFL MVP award and three years in which he was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year. Yet Thomas has made more Pro Bowls, the same number of All-Pro first teams and was the best player on the best defense in football for several seasons. The point is, Thomas is one of the two greatest Longhorn pros of all-time and there’s no reason to believe Thomas — whether it’s in Seattle or elsewhere– could have a few more productive seasons as he begins his ninth year in the NFL.
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