Sept. 23, 1999
PULLMAN, Wash. -- Lamont Thompson's place in Cougar history was sealed years ago, but he will never be the subject of a television mini-series, a Ken Burns documentary, or even a glitzy ad campaign.
Not good enough? Well, no, that's not the problem. In fact, the junior defensive specialist, who moved into a tie for fourth all-time with his 12th career interception against Idaho Sept. 18, could own every WSU record in the books and still be avoided like the plague.
Not a nice guy? That doesn't seem to be a problem either. Thompson may not be the life of the party, but it would take some serious effort to get anyone to speak ill of him.
So what's the problem? The problem is that Thompson disobeys the cardinal rule of self-promotion: he's quiet. In an era that has seen the likes of Deon Sanders, Dennis Rodman, and Shannon Sharpe, Thompson goes the old fashioned route, walking the walk without talking the talk.
In the hierarchy of interview subjects, Thompson has only slightly more to say than Boo Radley. After a two-hour practice, it is only when he learns a reporter wants more than a 30 second sound bite that he breaks a sweat. Yet he would never trash the media, even if you asked him to.
"There is nothing that comes with football that I dislike," Thompson said, attempting to assure the reporter that he does interviews with ease. He could almost pull it off, but then there is that look in his eyes. That look that seems to equate a tape recorder with a torture device, a conversation with a root canal.
Without a doubt, Thompson's place of comfort is on the football field, tangling with receivers instead of the media. "Playing college football is something I've always wanted to do," Thompson said. "I'm living my dream."
It was a dream born from watching football on television as a child. A dream strengthened at El Cerrito High in Richmond, Calif., where as a senior Thompson received All-East Bay, All-County, and Super Prep's All-West team honors. And it was a dream realized in 1997 with a coming out party that few Cougar fans will ever forget.
How could you forget a Pac-10 high six interceptions amassed in only three games, with only four starts on the season? How could you forget that three of those picks went along with 12 tackles -- and he was playing safety, remember -- in the 41-35 Apple Cup victory in Seattle that assured the first WSU Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years?
If you are a Cougar, you couldn't forget. And that is part of the problem.
"There's a lot of pressure on me being that I came on during my freshman year and did some things kind of unexpected," Thompson said. "To come in last year, and then this year, with all those expectations placed on you, it puts a lot of pressure on me to perform."
Although he failed to land the Cougars in another bowl game, Thompson's sophomore effort was as amazing as his first. Playing on a defense with only three other returning starters, Thompson nabbed four interceptions for 44 yards in WSU's first four games. Before the end of September, Thompson shifted to the other side of the ball, seeing limited action at receiver to bolster an offense that lost 14 lettermen after Pasadena. And if that wasn't enough he returned punts, gaining 123 yards on 16 tries.
All the while, Thompson anchored the secondary with 71 tackles, second only to linebacker James Price's 83. And slowly one got the idea that if a band member went down, the Cougs' Superman meets Jack-of-all-Trades could probably play the trumpet, too.
"I just want to help the team win," Thompson said. "If the coach feels that I can help on the offensive side, then I'm more than willing to do it. But it's the coaches' decision and I just try to go out there and do what I'm told."
In the young 1999 season, Thompson has already received moving orders. When cornerback Chris Martin was declared academically ineligible only days before the season kicked off, coach Mike Price called on Thompson to fill the gap.
"If there is anybody we can replace (Martin) with, it is the very best athlete on the team: Lamont Thompson," Price said. "He's got the speed to cover anybody."
Price was proven right in the season opener. Starting his 16th consecutive game, but his first at corner, Thompson managed 11 tackles, including two for Utah losses, and recorded his first interception of the season.
"He's tough," Utes quarterback Darnell Arceneaux said of Thompson after the game. "They moved him to corner, so he's obviously adjusting to that, but he's such a great athlete that it won't be long until he feels at home out there."
Now averaging 0.66 picks per start, Thompson is on pace to surpass Richard Reed's WSU-record 14 career interceptions by mid-October, but he would rather collect wins.
"I just want to be the best player that I can be," Thompson said. "Whatever comes with that, records or awards, is what comes. If I just play the way I'm capable of playing, all that stuff will just fall into place."
Whether or not Thompson etches his name in the record books as the most prolific pass defender in WSU history remains to be seen, but his work ethic and athletic ability has been pounded into the minds of Cougar players and fans alike without a single chest-thump or endzone shuffle.
"I think I'm looked upon as a leader based on what I did in the past," Thompson said. "I think that some of the younger players, freshman and sophomores, look to me to be a leader because they want to be in the same position that I am in. But I just try my hardest to be a very coachable player, and to lead by example."
With any luck, Thompson's hard work will result in the realization of yet another of his dreams: a three-interception, three-touchdown game. It's a fitting dream for Thompson, not only because it would be difficult to rival, but because the performance would speak for itself.
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