WVU football: Wide receiver Thompson earning his stripes
WACO, Texas -- It's easy to say a lot has changed for West Virginia since last year's outrageous Big 12 opener against Baylor, but it's hard to really understand the totality of the transformation.
The Mountaineers scored 10 touchdowns and had 807 yards in 88 snaps, but only one person who contributed 16 total yards to the win against the Bears played in last week's win against Oklahoma State.
That'd be sophomore Jordan Thompson and that was especially good news in upsetting the Cowboys.
His leaping 17-yard reception on a third down in the fourth quarter kept the kicker from trying a 48-yard field goal and instead moved the chains. That preceded a much more makeable 27-yard attempt that was good and gave the Mountaineers a six-point lead with 3:54 remaining in the 30-21 win.
"I think it's something that will continue to happen," Thompson said. "As a receiver, we're expected to make big plays in crucial situations."
Those are interesting words from the team's 5-foot-7 inside receiver, but it's more interesting that he was allowed to talk at all before WVU (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) plays No. 17 Baylor (3-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday. The game at Floyd Casey Stadium will be televised by Fox Sports 1. The Mountaineers also will go with Clint Trickett as its starting quarterback.
The topic of making plays - and simple ones, never mind big ones - had surrounded him like a double team for the past seven months. He spoke to reporters Tuesday for the first time since the end of the 2012 season.
He'd been requested repeatedly through spring football, preseason practice and the beginning of this season, but the coaching staff was just as consistent in saying Thompson wouldn't be speaking to the media until he did something worth discussing.
It wasn't merely the catch against Oklahoma State. In fact, he'd submitted as many forgettable moments as he did memorable ones in the game. A quarter before his catch, he was back to return a punt and chose to call for a fair catch at his 3-yard line.
"As soon as I caught the ball, I knew what I did was wrong," he said. "There was no question about it. I knew it was wrong, and as soon as I caught it I was mad at myself."
Thompson, though, had been good enough in practices and with his teammates to earn a start, which is a long way from where he'd been.
"I guess you could say it was probation," he said.
Thompson enrolled in January 2012. By the end of spring practice, he and safety Karl Joseph had undoubtedly earned the right to start. Joseph led the team in tackles and was the only defensive player to make an all-conference team. Thompson caught 13 passes for 85 yards.
"Even I expected more," he said. "I personally expected more and knew I could do more than what I did."
A story developed as the season progressed and as Thompson only caught one pass for 11 yards in the final seven games, but Thompson said it was hard to adjust and develop so quickly.
"Especially with those superstars," he said.
When spring football started and Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were preparing for the NFL draft, Coach Dana Holgorsen and offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson both simply refused to discuss Thompson or anything he was doing in practice until he did something in a game.
Thompson injured his left shoulder in the first week of spring practice and was out or limited for most of the 15 practices. When the spring game came around, Thompson caught six passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns. That came a year after he caught eight passes for 66 yards and a score.
After the three-touchdown game, Holgorsen called Thompson the "greatest spring game player of all-time," which was not a compliment.
Thompson knew about the line, but he wasn't aware of the chatter that surrounded it. He said he wasn't sure what he did to be on probation by the coaches, but that he was more concerned about getting back to a good place. That meant accepting what he could not change and trying to make use of it.
"They knew last year wasn't really a great season for me and it was disappointing for myself," he said. "But I look at it and I'm glad I had that season. I felt like I built experience as a freshman, and because I gained a little experience, I can relay that to a lot of the first-year players. That's making the team grow and grow and grow, and we're going to play together for a couple of years."
Thompson caught only three passes for 30 yards against Oklahoma State, which brought his season total all the way up to four catches and 35 yards. He didn't even play between his one reception against Oklahoma and three receptions against Oklahoma State, but he started against the Cowboys and played the most he's played this season once Mario Alford was knocked out of the game
Whether the challenge of his coaches was met, or that those coaches just needed a body, Thompson spent this week working on punt returns and kickoff returns as the Mountaineers try to find someone who can do something there.
Thompson is finally a part of the conversation.
"I feel like I'm playing a bigger role on this team than I did last year, but my freshman year was still good for me," he said. "I was able to actually get on the field and get experience with the speed of the game, but this year, I can translate it so much better. I feel co much more comfortable being on the field. I can say I'm 100 percent more comfortable than I was last year."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.