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Originally published Friday, March 15, 2013 at 8:03 PM

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Washington's Shaq Thompson won't take any safety from contact

Shaq Thompson to stay at linebacker after successful switch as a freshman.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Bob also posted the video of the interview that led to this article. Well worth... MORE
0-39 with 37 K's! Somewhere Carlos Peguero is smiling. MORE

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The debate, such as it was, is over — Shaq Thompson is a linebacker.

The graduate of Sacramento's Grant High arrived at Washington last August as the most-heralded member of UW's Class of 2012, regarded by many football recruiting analysts as the top safety in the country.

The Huskies, though, always figured that Thompson's 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame might make him a better fit to play closer to the line. And after a few August practices last year, Thompson was moved.

He spent the year officially listed as a nickelback, though he basically played an outside linebacker role. And while both he and UW coaches publicly held open the idea he might at some point move back to safety, his play at linebacker seemed to indicate he'd found a home.

When UW began spring practice last week, Thompson was listed as a linebacker, making permanent the move of last August. There was no argument at all from Thompson.

"I actually love it," he said. "I get to play in the box with (other UW linebackers) and I really like it. I'm into contact."

Starting this weekend, he'll try to get into contact of a different sort, flying to Florida to take part in a week or so of minor-league training camp with the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox drafted Thompson in the 18th round last June, and he spent last summer playing in the Gulf Coast League.

While he earned some unwanted notoriety for going 0 for 39 at the plate with 37 strikeouts (he also had eight walks), he reportedly got a $45,000 bonus for signing and can make up to $100,000 if he plays for four years. Thompson, who plays center field, said he simply likes playing baseball, and feels more of a challenge than ever to prove he can do it after the struggles of last summer.

So he plans to take part in as much baseball this spring and summer as his football schedule allows. With UW taking a break from spring practice (it will be off after Saturday until April 2) and the school also ending its academic quarter, he has some time the next week to work out with the other Red Sox minor-leaguers. He said he has a schedule mapped out to participate in additional baseball throughout the spring and summer with minimal impact on football.

"I'll just continue to go every week or so, every time we get off (from football)," he said. "We talked about it. We've got it scheduled out, so we'll see how it goes."

The ability to take some classes online will help him stay on track academically.

Thompson showed last season he could play a summer of baseball and then step back onto the football field without appearing to miss a beat. He was fifth on the team in tackles with 74, third in tackles-for-loss with 8.5 and tied for first in interceptions with three. He rarely missed a down and earned all-conference honorable mention.

Those numbers came despite the inevitable adjustments all true freshmen face in making the leap from high school. He said he basically had to know just two defenses in high school. UW's defense under coordinator Justin Wilcox, he said with a wry laugh, is "a lot more" complicated.

"My first game, my head was spinning like 'Where do I go? Where do I line up?' " he said. "I think the game has slowed down for me tremendously now."

And while much has been made of his apparent switch in positions, Wilcox counters it might not have been as much of an adjustment as thought.

"He didn't play a lot of safety in high school if you watched him," Wilcox said. "He was a tailback (on offense) and when he was a safety he was down in the box near the line of scrimmage. So the things we are asking him to do are not much different, and that's what we are going to continue to use him as.

"Shaq's got a lot of good skills, and we feel like this is the best thing for him and for us. He gives us some versatility in the slot because there are guys he can cover because he can run. But he's also a 230-pound guy, so we feel like that's his best way so we are going to continue to use him that way. He's had a great offseason, and we expect him to get better and better."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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