Tony Thompson, son of former Cougars standout Jack Thompson, was too small in high school to get scouts' attention, but after working to impress WSU coaches, he has earned a roster spot.

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PULLMAN — Tony Thompson remembers throwing snow balls at the Snow Bowl.

When you’re the son of a Washington State legend like Jack Thompson, you don’t miss Apple Cups like that one. Or Apple Cups in general.

That includes Saturday’s, which figures to be much less memorable for almost everybody.

Except for Jack and Tony Thompson. Both father and son will be in Martin Stadium once again, only Tony won’t be sitting in the stands with his dad for this one.

He’ll be down playing in the game.

“It’s a dream come true for me,” Jack said of seeing his son being a scholarship player for his alma mater.

This story doesn’t take the path you’re probably expecting, however. Now a redshirt junior, Tony is still somewhat of an unknown around Pullman. Even with his father’s legacy, Tony came to WSU as a walk-on in 2005 — and appeared to be a longshot to earn a scholarship and become a contributor.

He wasn’t recruited by Division I schools; he didn’t even play on the Ballard High School varsity team until his senior year. Thompson, now 6 feet 2, 240 pounds, spent his freshman and sophomore years of high school in a 5-7, 125-pound frame.

He found work as a scout-team player at Ballard.

“I remember they used to obliterate poor Tony,” Jack said. “My heart was just killing me to watch that.”

But Tony’s heart never did quit, and he started growing during his senior season. Too late to catch the attention of Division I scouts, but enough for him to remember all those fall weekends he spent as a kid in the Cougars’ locker room watching Drew Bledsoe, Robbie Tobeck, Torey Hunter and others.

“I looked up to those players like gods,” he said. “I mean, that’s what I wanted to be.”

So Thompson passed on the lower-division schools and headed to Pullman, hoping to will his way onto the team his dad held all the records for.

“Coach [Bill] Doba would always give me crap because I’d always be in his office as a walk-on saying, ‘What do I gotta do to earn a scholarship?’ ” he remembers.

Doba, in need of a long snapper for the 2006 season, told Thompson to train for that over the summer and gave him a list of other ways he needed to improve. Thompson returned stronger, and he served as WSU’s long snapper as a walk-on.

“When I accomplished the things he asked, I went back to him after that season,” he said. “And he was true to his word. He’s a great man.”

Thompson has become one of the team’s key contributors on special teams and is the primary backup to senior Devin Frischknecht at tight end. He has four catches for 30 yards this season and could compete for the starting spot next season.

“He’s just very passionate about being a good football player,” tight-ends coach Rich Rasmussen said. “He has the attitude that he will do whatever it takes to make this team successful.

“Hopefully, that’s an attitude that carries over to other individuals in the program, too. I’ll tell you this, though, he is what we look for when we’re recruiting.”

Funny how it all worked out. Washington and WSU gave four Ballard High players from that team scholarships while the son of one of the state’s all-time greats went unnoticed.

Yet the player from that Ballard High team who will be making a difference on the field this weekend will be Thompson, and it has nothing to do with his last name.

“He’s had to work so hard to get to this point,” Jack said. “I’m just so proud of him.”

Cougar tribute

The Cougars hope they’re as imposing on the field as a bronze cougar to be unveiled at 10 a.m. Saturday on the northeast side of Martin Stadium. The artwork, labeled “Cougar Pride,” is the final part of early renovation phases of the stadium.

The cougar is about 2 ½ times life size, descending a rock at a 30-degree angle. The display is about 15 feet high.

“It’s an incredible cougar,” says Gary Schneidmiller, a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, real estate developer/broker who financed the project. Earlier reports put the price tag at $400,000. Schneidmiller, a 1971 alumnus, said he did it as a tribute to his parents.

Wildlife artists Chester and Mike Fields of Spokane sculpted the cougar, and it was cast at a foundry in Joseph, Ore.

The display will be only a few steps from the site of “Butch’s Den,” where WSU had a succession of live cougar mascots until 1978.

Notes

• Wulff said Nico Grasu will kick field goals and Patrick Rooney will handle kickoff duties.

• Wulff said he expects to use a combination of Dwight Tardy, Logwone Mitz and Marcus Richmond at running back, with Tardy likely to get the most carries. Wulff said Tardy is still only “80 or 90 percent healthy.” He still has some discomfort in his knee, Wulff said.

• Frischknecht (ankle), LB Andy Mattingly (ankle), LB Myron Beck (broken hand), CB Tyrone Justin (ankle), LB Louis Bland (leg) and CB Romeo Pellum (leg cramps) are expected to play Saturday.

Times staff reporter Bud Withers contributed to this article.