Seattle coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Russell Wilson knew plenty about Shaq Thompson when the Carolina Panthers linebacker was a star at the University of Washington.
That wasn’t exactly reciprocated by Thompson, who only knew if the Seahawks won if he heard chanting on a Sunday evening near his apartment.
The Seahawks continued to familiarize themselves with Thompson this week while the rookie prepared to make his first professional trip back to the Pacific Northwest this weekend.
“He is an incredible football player. We did get to see him a lot and knew all about him coming through the recruiting process and all that kind of stuff,” Carroll said. “We watched it happen. He is a fantastic player and you can see how much respect they have for him in the way that they are playing him.”
It wasn’t that Thompson wasn’t a fan of the Seahawks or players on the team. But Thompson used Sundays to rehab from the previous day’s game, or to relax, or to catch up on studying.
“I tried to stay away from football on Sundays in college,” Thompson said.
But he got to know Wilson slightly during his three years at Washington. Thompson played linebacker, safety and running back for the Huskies, and he won the award for the most versatile player in college football his junior year.
Yeah it’s a homecoming game, but at the end of the day it’s a business trip for the Panthers.
Former University of Washington LB Shaq Thompson on playing the Seahawks in Seattle
Wilson remembered Thompson helping out at one of his football camps in Seattle one summer.
How could he forget the face?
“He’s a guy that I loved watching play at the University of Washington. He was a superstar,” Wilson said. “Just made so many plays on offense and defense playing running back and linebacker and all the things he would do for them. He was pretty unbelievable to watch.
“Any time I turn the TV on around this area, Shaq’s on TV somehow. It’ll be fun to get to play against him. And obviously he’s a tremendous talent and a guy who worked his tail off to get where he is.”
Thompson is from Sacramento and had offers from just about every major school as a five-star recruit. He picked Washington because of the strong California connections on the team – from his best friend to his cousin.
He began as a safety before moving to linebacker, and even played some at running back. The Panthers drafted him with every intention of playing him at outside linebacker, and Thompson made it no secret he didn’t want to go back to playing running back.
“He is a guy that is kind of a hybrid,” Carroll said. “He can play safety if he wanted to. He could play linebacker. He could be a running back. He can do a little bit of everything. He is a fantastic football player so we respect the heck out of him.”
Through four games this season, Thompson has 16 tackles and one sack. It’s unclear how much he’ll play against Seattle with the return of Luke Kuechly, but the Panthers like pairing Thompson with fellow outside linebacker Thomas Davis.
You’d think Thompson would be getting a number of ticket requests for this weekend’s game, but he nipped that in the bud when he first became a professional.
He bought tickets only for his mother and brother.
“I blocked (the distractions) out from the get-go,” Thompson said. “I told them it’s not free anymore. It’s not college. So just be blunt about it. Be straight up.”
That will be tough this weekend with his college playing a home game against rival Oregon. Even the mention of the game caused Thompson to start shouting, and he promised a Huskies victory over the Ducks for the first time since 2003.
He even hoped to make it out to the game for a quarter, even though that’s unlikely with a 7:30 p.m. (Pacific time) kickoff, meetings with the Panthers and curfew.
Even if he doesn’t attend the game, he’ll still try to hit some of his favorite spots. He likes the Hawaiian restaurant Kona Kitchen, and he hopes to take his teammates to Top Pot Doughnuts.
Thompson’s homecoming is so anticipated that media covering the Seahawks requested Thompson for the teleconference, when almost invariably the opposing team’s media will request quarterback Cam Newton this early in the season.
But just like he did at the beginning of the season with ticket requests, Thompson is trying to block it all out.
“Yeah it’s a homecoming game, but at the end of the day it’s a business trip for the Panthers,” he said. “It’s going down there to play our brand of football, execute in all three phases and hopefully come home with a W so everyone can feel good on the plane ride.”