College football: Gophers’ Thompson takes charge
By Marcus R. FullerSt. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- With Brock Vereen gone to the NFL, Cedric Thompson jumped to accept the vacant leadership role in the Gophers' secondary. But the senior safety quickly realized he couldn't do it on his own...
By Marcus R. Fuller
St. Paul Pioneer Press
MINNEAPOLIS - With Brock Vereen gone to the NFL, Cedric Thompson jumped to accept the vacant leadership role in the Gophers’ secondary.
But the senior safety quickly realized he couldn’t do it on his own.
Before fall practice even started, he learned firsthand how much he was responsible for, such as making sure his teammates were on time for classes, meetings and workouts. It was a bit overwhelming.
So Thompson shared some of that burden with his roommate, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, a junior cornerback.
“Me and Boddy are like apples and oranges,” Thompson said. “Boddy’s more of a vocal guy. He’ll scream and yell, making sure everybody is doing right. I feed off that from Boddy, so now I’m more of a vocal guy. I’m going to tell you if you’re right or wrong, and if you’re wrong, I’m going to make sure you get it right.”
But Thompson, named Big Ten defensive player of the week Monday after a big game in Minnesota’s comeback victory over Purdue, has always been best at leading by example.
The 6-foot, 208-pound native of Calipatria, Calif., recorded six tackles and two interceptions, including a spectacular diving pick to seal the Gophers’ 39-38 victory over the Boilermakers on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Thompson, who ranks third on the team in total tackles with 34, is tied with Boddy-Calhoun and junior safety Damarius Travis for the team lead with two interceptions.
“We’re in a very strong competition right now,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “Hopefully, I’ll end up on top. But if not, I’ll be happy for both those guys.”
The Gophers (6-1, 3-0) play Saturday at Illinois (3-4, 0-3) with a chance to go 4-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1967, which also is the last time they won the conference title.
Thompson is healthy after being blindsided by a hit by Purdue’s Danny Anthrop, which inspired teammates to come to his defense and, eventually, rally for victory.
“He means a lot as a senior and as a captain,” senior running back David Cobb said. “The guy, he gives us everything he has every day in practice, weight room and in the game. To take a shot like that, to see one of your players out there like that, you have to bow your neck a little bit and come back.”
Thompson returned to the game to fire up his team and put an exclamation point on Minnesota’s sixth win.
Even before that, Thompson had been an inspiration.
In June, he won the Wilma Rudolph Student Athlete Achievement Award given to a player who has overcome great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success.
Thompson, who was a subject in an award-winning documentary film, avoided gang violence that resulted in the murder of his cousin by living with his father a couple of hours away from Calipatria in Bombay Beach, Calif., a nearly deserted old town along the Salton Sea.
“We talked about it one time,” Boddy-Calhoun said of Thompson’s background. “It shows his character. There are a lot of guys on this team that have stories. We all come from different places. You have to be able to accept what he went through, have some empathy towards that.”
Thompson approached Kill after the Texas Bowl loss to Syracuse last year and told the coach he wanted to be a captain as a senior.
Boddy-Calhoun thought Thompson could do it; he had received encouragement from Thompson while recovering from a season-ending knee injury last year. But establishing a new leader doesn’t happen overnight.
“It didn’t get clear until the summer,” Boddy-Calhoun said. “He kind of showed it in the spring, but I was rehabbing at the time. I wasn’t around the guys that much. But I can say during the summer that he took that role and ran with it.”
In June, Minnesota’s secondary had a “really emotional” meeting, Boddy-Calhoun said.
From that point on, Thompson was like a drill sergeant, hounding teammates about everything from captain’s practices to summer school.
Thompson said he couldn’t have done it without Boddy-Calhoun.
“Boddy’s just a high-energy guy,” he said. “I feed off of him. And I learned how to be a more high-energy guy.”
The Gophers injury report lists tight end Brandon Lingen and linebacker Everett Williams as out for Saturday.
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