For all Shaq Thompson has accomplished in two years at Washington, you still fantasize about him doing more. You want to see the linebacker get carries as a running back. You want to see him make an even greater impact on defense.
If Saturdays turned into a Shaq Thompson variety show, it would get huge local ratings.
It’s hard to believe that Thompson, once of the most ballyhooed defensive recruits in UW history, is already a junior. Considering the talent he flashed as an underclassman, it’s possible that this will be his final season with the Huskies. The NFL will be calling soon, and Thompson is the kind of athletic, instinctive player who can earn millions in the league. He’s just 20 years old, but like everything involving Thompson, premature thoughts are always racing through the mind.
But Thompson won’t listen to the noise. Right now, he just wants to improve after what he considered a subpar 2013 season.
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“My sophomore year was a little shaky,” Thompson says.
Thompson had 78 tackles last year, which ranked second on the team. He had an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown at Oregon State. It wasn’t a spectacular season, but it hardly seemed shaky.
Thompson won’t back off the assessment, though. You want more from him, but his standard is higher.
Why did he deem 2013 shaky?
“Lack of tackling, really,” Thompson said. “Once you miss a tackle, you can get down on yourself. I can be more consistent there. I can make more plays.”
So far, Thompson’s UW career has been defined by solid play amid adjustment. He’s a natural safety who converted to outside linebacker upon arrival in college. At 6 feet 1 and 228 pounds, he’s growing into the new position, and once he masters the nuances, he figures to be a special blend of linebacker and safety, a hybrid suited perfectly for today’s fast-paced, pass-happy style of football.
As a freshman and sophomore, Thompson was given honorable mention on the All-Pac-12 team. This season, the expectations are limitless. Making all-conference is a must now. Athlon Sports magazine took it another step, naming Thompson a first-team preseason All-American. He is also on the preseason watch list for both the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player) and the Hornung Award (most versatile player).
Thompson isn’t worried about individual honors, however.
“I’m not focusing on tackles or interceptions or sacks,” he said. “I’m focused on leadership. It’s strictly team first. I want to be one of the top leaders on the team.
“Last year, I just laid back. Sean Parker was there to lead us. Greg Ducre was there. Now, I have to be more vocal. I’m looking forward to that challenge.”
The seriousness of Thompson’s approach reminds me of two recent Washington linebackers — Mason Foster and Donald Butler. Neither left school early, but they were linebackers who made an impact early in their careers, continued to grow and turned in dominant seasons before heading to the NFL. And both have become good pros, too.
There’s plenty of talk about Thompson doing the Myles Jack thing and making cameos at running back this season. The Huskies are playing down the idea a little right now, but at some point, that will happen. Still, Thompson will make his biggest impact by reaching his potential on defense.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason,” Thompson said, reflecting on his first two collegiate seasons. “I’ve done some good things my first two years. My freshman year, as a down safety, I learned a lot about playing linebacker. My sophomore year was a little shaky, like I said, but I’m playing with a lot more confidence. I’m comfortable. I’m being physical on every play, hitting. It’s all more natural to me now.”
The Huskies could have four defensive players in next year’s NFL draft. The other three candidates are defensive tackle Danny Shelton, cornerback Marcus Peters and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha. But Thompson has the highest ceiling of them all.
NFLDraftScout.com analyst Rob Rang, who lives in Gig Harbor, ranks Thompson No. 28 currently on his big board for the 2015 draft. He could be a first-round selection with a dominant junior season.
Not that Thompson is thinking that far ahead.
“I’m focused on right here and now,” Thompson said.
It’s the kind of focus you would expect from a player who looks back on a good year and calls it shaky. As a starter from Day 1, Thompson has accomplished plenty as a Husky. But there’s more — and better — to come.