March, 20 2023
Thurman Thomas is remembered for displaying mental toughness as he endured four consecutive Super Bowl losses with the Buffalo Bills. That mental toughness was also seen as a high school senior when he made the difficult decision to leave his native Texas behind.
Despite being a sensational running back at Houston’s Willowridge High School, Texas and Texas A&M recruited him as a defensive back. He accepted Oklahoma State’s offer despite being listed as sixth on the running back depth chart. “I don’t want to go to a place where they’re just gonna hand me a job,” Thomas told The Oklahoman. “That meant I had five other guys in front of me and I had to catch those guys.”
By the eighth game of his freshman season, Thomas had caught and surpassed all five. He ran for 206 yards against Kansas State, springing the Cowboys towards a bowl game. He was MVP of the Gator Bowl, rushing for 155 yards against South Carolina. He led the Big Eight in rushing as a sophomore, gaining 1,650 yards and averaging more than a touchdown per game. A knee injury nagged him through his junior season. He was limited to 741 yards, and some criticized him for running hesitantly.
Thomas returned to health and his old form in 1987. He rushed for 1,613 yards, again leading the Big Eight. He was named Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. He was Sun Bowl MVP, rushing for 157 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-33 victory over West Virginia. In hindsight, one of Thomas’ greatest accomplishments that year may have been holding off his backup Barry Sanders, who became a Hall of Famer as well.
Thomas helped lead the Buffalo Bills to their first playoff appearance in seven seasons during his rookie year of 1988. The Bills won four AFC Championships with Thomas in the backfield, and he was elected to both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was also the inaugural inductee into Oklahoma State’s Ring of Honor in 2020.