TAMPA, Fla. It was like this for Steve Taneyhill, too, but he had already established himself as a star to watch.
Dylan Thompson, the newest hero on South Carolina’s mountaintop, isn’t having any problems handling his sudden fame, although it has been a bit shocking to deal with all of it.
“I think it’s been crazy, probably, honestly, a little too much,” Thompson said, as the No. 11 Gamecocks prepared for No. 19 Michigan and the Outback Bowl. “But, same thing. Ballgame’s a ballgame. Yeah, we won, and I was fortunate enough to play decent in that one, enough to win, and it’s good for the team. Four in a row, against them, that’s always good.”
Thompson might have known that his days of being relatively anonymous on campus were over, as soon as he wrapped a 310-yard performance in a 27-17 win at Clemson. While the saying goes that the backup quarterback is always the most popular player on the team, and Thompson had played significant minutes throughout the year, he was content to go in when his number was called, not whine or be petulant about deserving to play over starter Connor Shaw. If nobody noticed him on a particular non-gameday, that was fine.
That vanished. Quickly. At USC, athletes that hardly ever play are fawned over in Bieber-esque proportions. For ones that play football, and then make an outstanding play, and then make several outstanding plays against the Gamecocks’ hated rival?
Well, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to think that Thompson could have sold out Williams-Brice Stadium by himself a week after the Clemson game, just by showing up and offering to speak for five minutes.
The requests for a quick picture with another student while just walking to class, or signing an autograph or 12 – Thompson took timeout to sign a ticket stub for a young fan during a recent USC basketball game – have been numerous. He’s not just Dylan Thompson anymore.
He’s Dylan Thompson, The Kid That Beat Clemson.
“That type stuff,” he confirmed. “Even back home, it just used to be, ‘Hey, Dylan,’ and now it’s like, they want to talk about the Clemson game and all this other stuff.”
It’s not going away anytime soon. Thompson, as coach Steve Spurrier has pledged, will play in Tuesday’s Outback Bowl, although Shaw will start. Shaw, who is back to full health after nagging foot and ankle injuries, will play the first series at least, and Spurrier has said that he wants one guy to play most of the game.
Who that guy is remains to be seen. It could be whoever has the hotter hand, and considering that Shaw hasn’t played since Nov. 17, it’s not unreasonable to think that Thompson may go in in relief on Tuesday and remain there.
“Connor’s been the starter and Connor’s done a good job,” quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. “Like I’ve said all along, it’s nice to have a couple of guys now that can go in there and play. That hasn’t been the case over the last few years, necessarily, where two guys have proven that they’re ready to go play and capable of helping us win football games, and now we do. Dylan had a good one, but (Spurrier) said both of them will play and Connor should be ready to go.”
Thompson is excited about the game, but knows that it’s Shaw’s game at first. Still, knowing that he’ll play can only help. Thompson was at his best this year when he knew in advance that he was going to play (starts against East Carolina and Clemson) and struggled when he had to fill in unexpectedly.
“I think it means a lot when you can get kind of a feel for defense throughout the game, whether it be through practice reps or actually in the game and kind of as the game goes, you get more comfortable, but yeah, I would agree with that,” he said. “At the same time, though, it’s my job to be ready whenever I am called, so if I do get thrown in there in the middle of the game, I’ve got to be ready to go.”
And he won’t be asking for more time, either. When Spurrier tells him to go in, he’ll go in, and ditto when (if?) Spurrier tells him to come out.
“Honestly, I feel like we’re in great hands with Connor, great hands with myself,” Thompson said. “However that works out, coach will make the right decision, and we’ll roll with that. I just think it’s my job to work as hard as I possibly can and be ready when my number’s called, just like every other second guy on the depth chart. Whatever opportunity I get, that’s kind of what I roll with.”
“You got two guys that can play, that’s always a plus,” Shaw said earlier this week. “Both of us are proven winners, we can go out there and play the game. It should be exciting. I feel confident that it’ll be OK.”
No chance, either, of Thompson getting the big head, although there was a surprising amount of five-o’-clock shadow on Thompson’s chin during a recent practice. Starting to get the rock-star look and ego?
“No,” he said. “I’m not good enough to be cocky.”