Senior spotlight: Cheron Thompson

"If there were an All-SEC spot for a nickel back, Cheron Thompson should win it," Bobby Johnson said recently. In this VandyMania interview, the senior defensive specialist talks about what it takes to become a great nickel back, and takes a humorous look back over his five-year career.

For football novices, a "nickel back" is a fifth defensive back who enters the game typically only on obvious passing down. Cheron Thompson, who started a number of games at cornerback his freshman season, has specialized the last two seasons as a nickel back and has earned high praise from his coaches. In the South Carolina game, the Atlanta native made his first career interception and returned it for his first career touchdown (photo below by Stan Jones).


VandyMania: They tell us your nickname is "CatMan." Where does that come from?

Senior defensive back Cheron Thompson: One time back in my freshman year the coach had just mentioned "cat" to me. Then everybody just started saying, "I'm just gonna call you CatMan." It just started in one of the meeting rooms, and it has stuck with me ever since I've been here.

VM: You were recruited five years ago by the Woody Widenhofer staff. Tell us a little about how you ended up choosing Vanderbilt.

Cheron: Really Vanderbilt was one of my first choices. I committed on my first visit. I played in black and gold at Douglass High School in Atlanta, and I wanted to stay in black and gold! It was just a nice environment. Nashville's a great city. Vanderbilt has been very great for me, man.

VM: Last year Derrius Dowell, a defensive lineman from Douglass High School came up and after he visited with you, decided to make a commitment. We also hear there's another guy from Douglass who's committed for next year.

Cheron: Yeah. Alan Strong.

VM: So, are we starting to get a little pipeline going from Douglass High School?

Cheron: Douglass has some great athletes. I try to get great athletes to come to Vanderbilt every year. I help them recruit. If that's what it takes for Vanderbilt to have a winning season, that's what I'm going to do.

VM: The defensive backs lost a few key guys from last year, but overall the secondary has played well.

Cheron: I think the talent level overall is a little better than last year. We've got more discipline. We're more structured. We understand the defense more as a whole. Really, we don't second-guess what the coaches say in the secondary. The coaches call it, and we play it.

VM: I know you've probably hoped to be playing a little more than you have been. Has that part of it been tough for you?

Cheron: Not really. I consider myself a role player. If the coach wants me to play the nickel spot, that's what I'm going to play. If halfway through the season he decides I need to go back to corner and play to help out the team, that's what I'm gonna do. Either way, I'm gonna do whatever the coach says.

VM: What does it take to be an effective nickel back?

Cheron: Really it just takes reaction. Everything that happens in the nickel spot is reaction. We have things going on on the outside and on the inside that we have to react to. It's about reading the keys and knowing what to do in certain situations.

VM: You played a good bit at cornerback too your freshman year, correct?

Cheron: I started six or seven games at corner my redshirt freshman year. After my injury I slowed up a little bit, so they moved me inside, and I just found my spot there.

VM: Are you as fast now as you ever have been, do you think?

Cheron: Oh, I'm faster now, after my injury. The last two years I've been a little slower because of rehab and other things, but this year I've gotten back my step.

VM: You had the big ACL surgery, and had to do a complete rehab from that. How tough was that?

Cheron: Very tough. I played through one season and had to rehab through the next season. So really, this is my coming-out year.

VM: Who's your best friend on the team?

Cheron: I guess since I'm the old hat, I guess it's me and "Q"... Kelechi Ohanaja, because we're two of the oldest guys here.

VM: Who comes up with all these nicknames? Is that Kelechi?

Cheron: It's me and Kelechi. We come up with all kinds of nicknames. We just see how people react in certain situations and come up with a cool nickname for them.

VM: What are some of the ones you've given the freshmen this year?

Cheron: Hmmm... I almost know them better by their nicknames than their real names. Duran Coger... we call him "Slick." Sean Dixon is "Dukes"... he's just laid back. That just fits him. Jared Fagan we just call "Fagan." We couldn't come up with anything that's better than that for him. Josh Allen is "The Reverend," because he'll preach it to you just the way you want it.

VM: If you put all of you DB's in a race, say a 100-yard dash, who would win?

Cheron: Probably Fagan, and then Josh Allen. After that it would probably be Andrew Pace.

VM: What's been the best thing about your Vanderbilt career?

Cheron: The best thing is the experience. We're playing in the best conference in America. We're going against the best talent every game. Without that competition, there wouldn't be that challenge every week to try to get better.

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