Walking across campus Thursday brought back memories for Tre Thomas, a former Longhorn safety.
“I’m really enjoying this visit today,” Thomas said. “I guess this is why you have to grow up. It has a lot more meaning to me now. This was a part of my life. I was here for a long time.”
Thomas, who played for Texas from 1993-96, was on campus to motivate this year’s football team. He made three NFL practice squads after helping his team win the first Big 12 Championship in 1996. The championship was Texas and Thomas’ second straight – they also kept the Southwest Conference crown the last year before conference realignment.
“Winning those games was a way of stamping, ‘Hey, we ran this, and we’re going to start this new era,’” Thomas said.
But his team, too, struggled before reaching success. In 1993, Texas went 5-5-1 under head coach John Mackovic.
“We came in 1993 young, took a lot of whoopings and grew together,” Thomas said. “So by the time we played the Southwestern Conference Championship my junior year, it felt good … It changed our attitude of never letting go of our self-perception.”
Texas was projected as 21-point underdogs against defending champion Nebraska in the 1996 Big 12 Championship Game. But then-quarterback James Brown addressed the skepticism at his Monday press conference the week of the game.
“Hey man,” Brown remembers saying. “We might just beat these guys by 21 points.”
The Texas coaches didn’t encourage trash-talking – Brown said they didn’t want to give the opposing locker room further motivation. But Thomas said Brown’s belief gave his teammates motivation to win.
“It broke the elephant in the room,” Thomas said. “Why are we all coming in here expecting to lose?”
Now, when Thomas attends Texas football games, he sits in the stands. He said the energy at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium feels different than when
“I wish there was a way to fuel that energy as a player,” Thomas said. “As a player, you’re just listening to your headphones before a game thinking about how you need to win.”
Now, at age 40, Thomas looks to impart advice to the team. His message for their game at Baylor was simple.
“The talent is there,” Thomas said. “Y’all are going to be good. Don’t let the losses define your team going forward.”