Last season seemed to be the year of the freshmen in college football. While most of the attention was paid to quarterbacks, including one who took home the Heisman Trophy, plenty of other first-year players stepped up and made immediate impacts for their teams. Few were as important on defense as Shaq Thompson with the Washington Huskies and it was only the beginning of Thompson can do.
Thompson came to Washington as a highly touted recruit and quickly found a role in a defense that needed a lot of help. The Huskies were breaking in new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox after a disastrous 2011 season that saw UW field one of the worst defenses in the conference. Wilcox began his rebuilding of the Dawgs’ defense with Thompson, moving him all over the field as a linebacker/safety hybrid, utilizing his athleticism in as many ways as possible.
The young defender responded, finishing fifth on the team with 74 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and two sacks, along with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. His exploits earned him Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 and Freshman All American honors. He quickly became one of the top defensive players on the field, though Wilcox held back on feeding him the entire defensive playbook to avoid overwhelming him. Next season, the defensive coordinator will get to truly unleash one of his most physically gifted defenders.
Thompson will move down to outside linebacker full-time in 2013 after a year of learning the defense and bulking up in the weight room. He’ll be paired up with fellow sophomore Travis Feeney to form one of the best one-two punches in the entire country at outside linebacker next fall. The athleticism of the linebacker corps will be one of the major strengths of this Washington team next season and Shaq Thompson is going to a major piece of the gameplan.
With an expanded role next season, Thompson should get a chance to start showing what he is really capable of at outside linebacker. As one of the best freshmen in the country last season, he showed flashes of his potential, though only in limited situations. In 2013, Thompson should capitalize on his potential and break out as a major star in college football and one of the premier defenders in the Pac 12.