This is maybe how Zach came to be as compact and indestructible as a black box. When the pickup rolled over him, "we thought he was dead," says Steve. But all the mishap did was leave tire prints in his scalp, break his arm and shift the geography of his face, pulling the right eye and ear over slightly and making his head even more Fred Flintstone square than it already was. It also affected his hearing enough to make him a better football player: He relies on visual cues much more than most people, and that's why he watches so much film and can read plays so quickly. It also made him a wonderful lip-reader. He occasionally uses that skill to read plays being brought in from the sidelines by opposing players.
Anyway, after using his head as a speed bump, he was fine in no time—back running in the canyons, over rocks and cactus, barefoot, on his parents' ranch. When Zach was in junior high, Bart knocked him unconscious with a right hand that was supposed to have a boxing glove tied on it, except that both brothers had already removed their gloves. Once he fell out of the top berth of his bunk bed without waking up.
He is a walking Buster Keaton movie. He lived to tell about the night he walked into the hall outside his dorm room in time to see a thin line of fire heading straight for his door, which he slammed a sliver of a second before the door caught fire. And how did the man who pulled the prank, Shane Dunn, a teammate of Thomas's at Texas Tech, make such a line of fire?
"Ether," says Dunn.
Weren't you afraid of hurting Zach?
"Awww, you can't hurt ol' Zach."
"You talked to Shane?" asks Thomas.
"Did he tell you about the face masks?"
The face masks: At Tech, Thomas played as a true freshman and was All-America as a junior and again as a senior. Better than that, he has the school record for breaking his own face mask—three times—while making tackles during practice and games. "He used to give us more headaches," says Dunn, who is a senior on Tech's offensive line. "Plus he's got that Fred Flintstone square head of his. That thing hurts."