And by 21 he had been in more trouble than R.J. Reynolds. In 1993 he and a few of his Texas Tech teammates shot at the ankles of some innocent passersby with a BB gun from the balcony of his seventh-floor dorm room. It got so bad, people would emerge from the bars and restaurants below and run, hunched over, to their cars. Nobody was hurt, but many were annoyed, especially the man who climbed off a Harley-Davidson and the reporter for the school paper.
"You're going to put the BB gun thing in there?" says Zach.
"But they kind of covered that up. Nobody really knows it was us. I mean, you couldn't really hurt 'em from that far away anyhow."
"But shooting at the reporter. That was just stupid, huh?"
Not a good example for the kids.
But more amazing than surviving all that is the fact that Zach Thomas, a guy who might have trouble meeting the height requirement to ride a roller coaster, is not only surviving as a starter on the Dolphins but is also the hottest new linebacker in the NFL. Thomas, the 154th player taken is looking like the heist of last April's draft. After nailing eight opponents in Miami's 23-20 win over the Houston Oilers on Sunday, he leads the Dolphins with 125 tackles, 91 of them unassisted. He also has two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions, the second of which he returned 26 yards for his first NFL touchdown on Sunday, giving the Dolphins a 20-17 fourth-quarter lead. All this is a little hard to believe, seeing as how Thomas stands 5'9" or so—"Yeah, but if I had a neck, I'd be six-three," he says—is unable to leap small stacks of change and is slower than the last day of school.
Take a recent night in Miami Beach. Thomas is dressed in a white shirt and white cap as he stands outside a nightclub waiting for the parking attendant to bring around his new Chevy Tahoe, a purchase that still blows his mind. "I'm making $131,000, man! That's big money for a guy like me!" (It's also the NFL rookie minimum.) And this middle-aged woman walks up to him, and he thinks maybe she is going to ask him for his autograph. That somebody might want his autograph also blows Thomas's mind. But no, she hands him a dollar and says, "It's the white Beamer."