Freshman Shaq Thompson making a strong first impression with Huskies
Freshman safety Shaq Thompson is playing a big role for Washington defense.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Stanford @ UW,
6 p.m., ESPN
Shaq Thompson had well-chronicled struggles catching up with pitches during his stint playing minor-league baseball with the Boston Red Sox this summer.
But through three games of his first college football season, the freshman has had no trouble getting up to speed with Washington's defense.
"I think the game is starting to slow down for him a little bit," said UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. "Not that it was ever too fast. But we are asking him to do a lot, and it's probably not 100 percent fair."
It's sort of what was expected, though, of a player who was regarded by many as among the best defensive players available in the Class of 2012. A graduate of Grant High in Sacramento, Calif., Thompson was considered perhaps the best safety in the country. He made a commitment to California in January, then changed his mind and signed with UW after the Huskies lured Wilcox away from Tennessee and defensive-line coach Tosh Lupoi away from Cal. Both coaches had long relationships with the family dating to when each was an assistant at Cal and coached Thompson's brother, Syd'Quan.
The freakish athletic ability of the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Thompson was enough to get him drafted in the 18th round by the Red Sox in June despite the fact that he had played little baseball in high school. He spent six weeks in the Boston organization, drawing undesired national attention by striking out 37 times in 39 at-bats.
But if those struggles left any lasting damage to Thompson's psyche, it's never been apparent at UW, where from almost his first moments on the field in August he flashed the potential so evident at Grant High.
"He picks things up real well," Wilcox said. "He's very coachable, he loves the game. He's got some things he's got to work on, just like everybody else. But he's got a good feel for the game. And sometimes that's very hard to tell in recruiting how well they pick the game up — does it make sense to them. Everybody is different. He has a good grasp, a good feel for that."
All of that was on display Saturday when Thompson led the Huskies with seven tackles, two for a loss, and blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown. He's also on kickoff return and punt teams.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian called the blocked field goal "just a glimpse of what we're going to see out of this guy and the big-play potential he provides us."
Sarkisian and Wilcox realized almost immediately upon Thompson's arrival that he had what it took to play a prominent role this season.
The only question was where.
The Huskies are deep at safety, led by junior captain Sean Parker at strong safety, the spot where Thompson figured to line up initially.
Washington coaches, though, realized their best defense would have Parker and Thompson on the field, and created a fifth defensive back role for Thompson. Thompson also lines up in what is traditionally a linebacker position, and in practice he spends time with both the safeties and linebackers.
"Getting our best people on the field, that's really the root of it," Wilcox said of Thompson's hybrid role. "You can call the positions whatever you want, but it's all about getting our best football players on the field. ... He does some things that a linebacker does and does some things that a defensive back does. So we'll put him out there on the slot receiver and let him play and also play him in the run game quite a bit."
About the only thing UW coaches haven't thrown on Thompson's plate is talking to the media — as with all players considered newcomers, he is not available to reporters.
Sarkisian, though, says those who have gotten to know Thompson at UW have come away impressed.
"He's a really mature guy," Sarkisian said. "If you met him in the hall and just talked to him, you wouldn't think of him as an 18-year-old true freshman. And whether that was because of the baseball thing and spending time with some grown men on the road or whatever that was, he's got a real maturity about himself."
• Washington officials said 51,619 tickets have been distributed for the Stanford game, which the school is billing as the "Blackout of the Century" with the team wearing its black uniforms and fans asked to also wear black.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.