Pro Football Hall of Fame running back was honored in Houston, Texas on Monday as part of the Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company’s Hometown Hall of Famer ™ program. The Class of 2007 enshrinee received a warm welcome at his alma mater, Willowridge High School. The tribute to Thomas included the unveiling of a historic plaque in front of a crowd of several hundred student-athletes, faculty members, family and friends.
Willowridge High School celebrated their famous alumnus by including the school band, dance team and cheerleaders in a pre-event pep rally to welcome Thomas, his family, and other distinguished guests. Following the pep rally, event emcee Shaun McDowell, the high school football coach, welcomed guests and invited Allstate’s George White to the stage. White spoke about Allstate’s excitement to bring the historic plaque to Willowridge. The Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises President/CEO George Veras then spoke to the students and guests and recognized Willowridge as an extension of Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame as holders of the historic plaque.
Locally revered coach Neal Quillin, Thomas’ former high school coach, served as the programs' plaque presenter and gave insight into Thomas’ playing days at Willowridge. He dubbed him a Hall of Famer with a heart as large as his football legacy. Thomas was escorted to the stage by Willowridge ROTC members and unveiled his plaque with Quillin to thunderous applause. As he addressed the crowd, Thomas spoke of his longtime passion for Willowridge and the school’s athletics programs, while also recognizing his family as the guiding forces behind his success.
“They pushed me to be great at every level of play,” said Thomas. “I distinctly remember my uncle telling me, that as a new player came onto the team at Oklahoma State – his name was Barry Sanders – that I needed to just keep up my hard work and persevere, now look how far it got me.”
A three-year letterman at Willowridge High School, Thomas rushed for back-to-back 1,500 yard seasons in 1982 and 1983 to earn All-State and All-American honors. After high school, Thomas attended Oklahoma State University where he amassed 4,595 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns, catapulting him into the school and conference record books while putting Stillwater, Okla., on the college football map in the mid-1980s. He was a Heisman Trophy candidate his senior year and was a first-team selection on the College Football All-American Team in 1985 and 1987.
Selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft, Thomas led the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances. He led the AFC in rushing three times (1990, 1991 and 1993). Thomas was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 1991 after becoming the 11th player in NFL history to finish a season with over 2,000 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons and led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage a record four straight years.
A member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s, he was selected first- or second-team All-Pro and All-AFC five straight years. Thomas, who played one last season with the Miami Dolphins, racked up a career total of 16,532 all-purpose yards that included 12,074 rushing yards and 4,458 yards on 472 catches. He scored 88 touchdowns in his 13-year career.
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