Washington’s Shaq Thompson, as always, looking at a lot of options in his football career
The Huskies’ versatile star might consider the NFL after the Cactus Bowl.
Seattle Times columnist
Hau’oli Kikaha has a very simple piece of advice for Shaq Thompson.
“Follow your heart, kid.”
Most people expect Thompson’s heart to tell him the same thing that Bishop Sankey’s and Austin Seferian-Jenkins’ did last year: to forego his senior year at Washington in order to start an NFL career.
If that’s the case, then the Cactus Bowl game Friday against Oklahoma State will cap a unique career of stunning versatility. Thompson came to Washington as a safety, switched early to linebacker, and had a memorable stint this season as a running back.
His coach, Chris Petersen, said he believes Thompson could succeed at the next level at any of those three positions. He has no idea which would be his best landing spot. At one point this week, Petersen mused it might be safety. Later, he had a different idea.
“I think if he really wanted to do it, it could be running back,’’ Petersen said. “I don’t know.”
Just for good measure, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy weighed in after poring over film of the Huskies: “If I was trying to get him to transfer, I’d want him to play linebacker.”
Just about the only thing certain is that Thompson’s pro future won’t be as a baseball player. He’s done with the sport after a 13-game stint with Boston’s rookie team in the Gulf Coast League in 2012, after the Red Sox selected him in the 18th round.
Thompson, with little baseball experience but intriguing athleticism, had 39 at-bats without getting a single hit. In fact, he struck out a mind-boggling 37 times. But Thompson views that humbling stint as valuable for his growth and maturity.
“Actually, it was a great experience,’’ he said. “It really opened my eyes to failure. Most guys don’t understand failure and what comes with it. That hit me hard. I understand it. I just kept it with me.”
Thompson rarely encountered failure in a season in which he won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player and also was named to several All-America teams.
He rushed 61 times for 456 yards, an average of 7.5 yards per carry. The third time he touched the ball as a running back, he sprinted 57 yards for a touchdown against Eastern Washington. In that same game, he had 14 tackles and a sack. Thompson later rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries against Arizona State, 174 yards and a touchdown against Colorado, and 100 yards on 16 carries against UCLA.
“When he came over, I thought this is easily one of the best guys in the country,’’ said Huskies running back Deontae Cooper. “The simple fact he doesn’t take any running-back reps, for him to go in there and do the things he did, makes him one of the best.
“I think he could do a lot of different things. I’m not the coach. If I was his coach, he’d be playing running back for me.”
But Thompson always has made it clear, though he’ll do what his coaches ask, his heart is on defense. He led the nation with four defensive touchdowns, including a 36-yard interception and fumble returns of 52, 32 and 100 yards.
Once Washington’s running backs began to return to health, Thompson requested a move back to defense.
He started the final three games at linebacker, and will do so again Friday. After that, he said, it’s still up in the air.
“No, I haven’t made it yet,’’ he said of his NFL decision. “After this game, I’m going to sit down with Coach Pete and my family. We’re really just going to talk through the pros and cons and see where it goes.”
Thompson said he hasn’t yet submitted his name for draft evaluation, but indicated such a move is likely. His decision, he said, will be influenced by “just whatever the grade is, honestly. It depends on the grade and the pros and cons.”
Thompson is projected by most draft analysts as a likely first-round choice.
Here’s what Petersen had to say about the upcoming meeting: “I’m sure Shaq has a good idea in his mind, and I have a good idea in my mind. When a guy plays at that level and he’s that good already, then it comes down to some intangible things. Personal things for him to decide. I think you could make a case on either side of it and not be wrong.
“It’s got to be what’s in his heart. I’ve been so impressed with him from the start in terms of just doing everything right.”
Thompson’s dilemma, borne of immense talent, is that everyone wants him — defense and offense, pro and college,
“He can’t be in two places at once,’’ teammate Danny Shelton said, referring to the linebacker/running back dichotomy.
We’ll know soon enough which place — the NFL, or back for his senior year at Washington — Thompson will end up next year. But as far as which position he’ll be playing — “the million-dollar question” in Petersen’s words — that might remain a work in progress.
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