The 2006 Rose Bowl game typically conjures up images of Vince Young tearing apart the USC defense and sneaking across the goal line with 20 seconds left on 4th-and-5. But few fans remember the team-leading 10 receptions that tight end David Thomas hauled in to help Texas earn its first national title since 1970.
“We couldn’t have won it without that,” former head coach Mack Brown said.
But Thomas’ earned more than just a national championship during his time at Texas. In his four years, Thomas also won the 2005 Rose Bowl by a slim margin and set the Longhorns’ record for receptions, yards and touchdowns by a tight end — records he still holds.
His play caught the eye of the New England Patriots, who selected Thomas in the third round of the 2006 NFL draft. He went on to have a fruitful seven-year career, in which he brought a Lombardi Trophy to New Orleans.
But Thomas’ love for Texas football stayed strong until he retired after the 2012 season. When Longhorn Network came calling, Thomas, a Texas native, leapt at the opportunity despite not having a communications degree or prior experience.
“I hadn’t really given a whole lot of thought to getting into broadcasting,” Thomas said. “The first time I did it, I started to see that I could still be around the game and be able to give my opinions and cover a team that I love to cover”
The attributes that earned Thomas praise from NFL and NCAA coaches and teammates have also garnered him strong reviews from his peers in the media.
“[Thomas is] a really bright guy who earned his degree before going to the NFL,” said Brown, who is now a broadcaster himself for ESPN. “He knows the game and had so much awareness of what was happening on the field. He has great insight for both broadcasting and coaching.”
Although Thomas’ playing career is over, the record-setting tight end still prepares for studio work as if he were going to take the field Saturday.
“It’s a very similar mindset,” Thomas said. “I kind of get lost in the world of watching the scheme and watching the players and the matchups and figure out where the other team is vulnerable and what can be exploited.”
Thomas reputation and experience led to a side job coaching with the Air It Out passing camp in December 2014. Alan Wartes, the camp director when Thomas’ attended as a high schooler, leapt at the opportunity to bring his former student and longtime friend on as a coach when Thomas retired from NFL.
“First and foremost, he’s just great for kids,” Wartes said. “David’s a great guy, and he’s a good ambassador for the University of Texas.”
As important as Air It Out may be to a camp alumnus such as Thomas, there are a few other players that take up most of his time now. He has four kids, ranging from one to seven years old, and has taken on the responsibility of coaching all of their teams to stay as involved as possible in their lives.
Thomas is just two years removed from a championship-winning career, but he has already found what he wants to do for the rest of his life.
“I’m thrilled with where I am,” Thomas said. “The game has done a lot for me and has opened a lot of doors for me and continues to open doors for me through these avenues. I’m very blessed to be able to do what I do and work with the people that I work with.”