SMU Fall Camp Notebook: Day 4

The Pony Stampede staff will be at every SMU fall camp practice this month and will provide exclusive stories, videos, and observations. Today we reflect on Day 4.

Thompson Ready To Spread His Wings And Fly

By EJ Holland

Speed kills on the gridiron and Der'rikk Thompson has plenty of it. The sophomore wide receiver is expected to be SMU's deep threat this season and can flat out fly down the football field just as his nickname ‘bird' suggests.

"If you line all the receivers up, I'm going to beat them all," he says.

While most fans assume he's called ‘bird' for his speed, in actuality, he earned the moniker as teenager for a very different reason.

"Oh man," he says with a little laugh. "I was about a buck twenty five going into my seventh grade year, and I had a little bit of a chest so I used to always walk around with my shirt off. My cousin was like ‘you have a bird chest' so then everyone started calling me bird."

With a chiseled frame and dynamic quickness, Thompson quickly became one of the best athletes at Troupe (TX). As a junior, he was a first-team All-District pick in both football and basketball and qualified for the state 100m finals. But just a few weeks into his senior year, Thompson tore his ACL.

Gradually, he began getting his speed back through rehab and took a redshirt once he arrived on the Hilltop. While Thompson was disappointed about not getting on the field, he observed and paid close attention to fellow receivers Aldrick Robinson and Cole Beasley, who now play with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, respectively.

"When I redshirted, it benefitted me a lot because I got to learn the ropes and what to do and what not to do," Thompson explained. "My freshman year was great because I not only got learn from Darius Johnson but also Aldrick Robinson and Cole Beasley. They really helped me out a lot."

Patience is a virtue and the learning experience paid off as Thompson was thrown into the fire midway through last season after starter Keenan Holman was sidelined with an ankle injury. He started eight games and recorded 30 receptions for 411 yards and three touchdowns.

"I just tried to listen to everything coach said and did the best I could," Thompson said. "I was pretty nervous when Keenan went down, but I had Coach (Jeff) Reinebold stay on me a lot. He told me to slow the game down and do the best that I could to make plays."

Thompson enters this season as the starting X receiver and worked hard this summer to really fine-tune his overall game. With a good amount of game experience under his belt, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is poised for a breakout season.

"I feel very comfortable in the offense. It's definitely not as difficult as it was when I first got here so I'm not making as many mistakes," Thompson said. "This summer, I really just focused on eliminating my mistakes in order to make sure I can make plays as a starter."

Thompson has been pushing himself to the limit throughout fall camp and is quickly gaining respect from his new position coach, Jason Phillips.

"Coach Phillips is more of a competitor. He wants to compete. He wants your all every play. Coach Reinebold was more of a teacher," Thompson explained. "Coach Phillips demands a high tempo from you. We have a pretty good relationship. He stays on me, and I try to pay attention and be the player he wants me to be."

Thompson fully expects to double his numbers from the 2011 season and is ready to leave the bird's nest and make a name for himself in 2012.

"I just want to be that deep threat and make plays to help this team win," he said.

Video: QB Conner Preston talks about his fall camp experience

Recovered From Injury, Nelson Ready To Make Impact

By EJ Holland

In almost any situation, the odds are always stacked against walk-ons, which is why SMU sophomore wide receiver Stephen Nelson puts in extra effort both on and off the field. An honor roll student at SMU, Nelson has also been described by June Jones as one of the hardest workers on the team.

During last year's fall camp, Nelson was quickly working his way up the depth chart but two weeks before the season opener, he broke his foot. After having surgery, he was back on the field this spring but once again suffered the same fate.

"It was tough being away from the game you love. Having to go through it not once but twice just sucked," Nelson said. Thankfully, I had friends and family that picked me up. My faith kept me strong and helped me mentally get through it."

Now, Nelson is back on the field and more determined to prove he can play at the Division I level. He currently sits second behind Der'rikk Thompson as an X receiver on the fall depth chart and has been showing no signs of limitation from the injury despite being cleared just last month.

"The rehab process was longer than expected. It took about two and a half months rather than the four to six weeks that they thought," Nelson said. "I spent July just strengthening my ankle and slowly getting back to running. Two weeks ago, I felt really good, which was just in time for camp. I was actually expecting to feel a little something but so far, it hasn't bothered me at all."

If Thompson goes down with his own injury or Jones decides to rotate receivers, Nelson believes he can be a serviceable option and step in without missing a beat. Nelson has only appeared in four contests for SMU but is extremely confident in his abilities.

"I'm really grateful because a lot of walk-ons don't have this opportunity," Nelson said. "I know what I'm doing out there. I've really taken steps to know the offense inside and out. I still make mistakes, but I believe I have Coach (June) Jones' trust. I'm going to be where he wants me to be, and I can make plays."

Nelson has already made an impression on new wide receivers coach Jason Phillips, who has a history with walk-ons. At Houston, he helped shape Patrick Edwards into a record-breaking wide out, and Nelson hopes to someday do the same under Phillips' guidance.

"He's been really good. He's kept us on track and doesn't let us off easy. He pushes us and he wants the best from you," Nelson said. "I have a lot of respect for Coach Phillips, and he's played the position. I feel I can really learn a lot from him."

Day 4 Observations:

- Practice was canceled due to inclement weather about an hour before it was supposed to end

- Before the rain, Conner Preston looked very accurate and completed a nice sideline pass to Stephen Nelson

- Preston was again on point as he connected with Gehrig Dieter for deep touchdown strike

- Although it's only practice, Cameron Rogers needs to meet backs at the line of scrimmage rather than waiting for them to come to him

- Garrett Gilbert looked strong once again and was off target just once today

- Darius Johnson gave Ronnell Sims a frustrated look after the redshirt freshman dropped a ball. Johnson then clapped his hands and encouraged him

- Keenan Holman practiced with a knee brace after suffering an injury yesterday. He was forced to take a break from practice today in order to get it stretched out by a trainer

-Jordan Free, Jarrett Spencer, Jared Williams, and Taylor Reich ran sprints but once again did not participate in drills

- Arrius Holleman left practice early and was the first one to leave the locker room after practice. He said his 'chest was hurting'

- SMU football alums Chris Banjo, Bennie Thomas, and Youri Yenga observed today's practice

- Coaches from Dallas Carter and Weatherford also observed practice

- Nelson on practice being cut short: "It gives us a chance to rest our legs and come out better tomorrow."

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