Monday, July 27, 2009

Is there pressure being Jack Thompson's son?

McCumber never asked me what I thought of the nickname before giving it to me, which was probably a good thing because I would have told him it sounded pretty stupid. But it somehow stuck and I’ve been sheepishly hauling it around ever since.

As nicknames go, it’s a weak one, nothing compared to a really good one such as Throwin’ Samoan. We all know who that is. Jack Thompson is a Cougar quarterbacking legend, and I had the privilege of watching him all the time because we went to WSU at the same time, 1974-78.

At any rate, the person on the phone happened to be Tony Thompson, Jack’s son. During our 10 minutes together I had to ask him what it’s like being the Throwin’ Samoan’s kid, wondering whether it comes with advantages or disadvantages.

Can you imagine how often Thompson has been asked that question? I’ve never asked him before, but I’m sure everyone he’s crossed paths with has. It seems like it could be a burden because of the endless comparisons, plus there are the questions of why he’s not as good as his dad. But here’s the deal, who is?

Jack Thompson is one of only two Cougar football players to have his number retired, the other being Mel Hein and his No. 7. In what rates as one of the coolest stories of the summer, the Throwin’ Samoan has agreed to unretire his No. 14 so that Tony -- No. 43 the last couple years, No. 46 before that -- can wear it this year. It’s an honor for the Cougar tight end who clearly has a special relationship with his famous father.

“If there’s a burden, it comes from other people,” Tony Thompson said. “They’ll talk to me about him and say, ‘Can you throw the ball like your dad?’ It’s stuff like that.

“There’s no pressure from my dad. It’s more of a blessing than a burden because I’ve grown up with solid advice for so long. It’s awesome for me to have a dad who’s been where I want to be and tell me about every step along the way.”

During his sophomore year at Ballard, Thompson thought it was a far-fetched idea to think that he would play college football someday, let alone as a Coug.

“In high school, my dad was always pushing me to keep at it, to keep working hard, that it would pay off,” said Thompson, who wore No. 14 for the Beavers. “It was hard for me to see that.”

Thompson got no offers to play college football. Even small schools spurned him. So he decided to walk on at Washington State, figuring he might as well walk on at the highest possible level.

For the longest time, he was football’s equivalent of a grunt, doing the little things, showing up early for practice, playing on the scout teams and special teams, working his way up, first as a long-snapper.

He earned his scholarship in January 2007 and will never forget that. What his dad told him did pay off.

“When I got the scholarship, I know he’s very proud of that,” Thompson said of his dad. “The route I took, it’s really cool to hear him talk about it.”

Now Thompson’s a 6-2, 241-pound senior and a starting tight end. He arrived in Pullman in January 2005 and will depart with a degree in social sciences in December, nearly five years later. What blows him away is to think that incoming freshmen were seventh graders when he was a senior at Ballard. “Wow!” Thompson thinks to himself. “I’ve been here for awhile.”

He sees a different attitude and a stronger commitment from his teammates. No one wants to go through another 2-11 season like last year. “The stuff we’re doing in the weight room, I can see that guys are getting physically transformed,” Thompson said. “There’s a better attitude. I just feel different about this team.”

Things are bound to improve. And when they do, count on Tony Thompson to be one of the leaders in the bounce-back season.

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