The Great Interceptor: Where is he now?

IT ONLY TAKES a few moments on the phone with Lamont Thompson to realize why the greatest air thief in Pac-12 history was once described as someone who chose his words carefully, if at all. Thompson is in his old stomping grounds these days, a married father of one with a six-year NFL career behind him. He remains as soft spoken as ever.

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And the sincerity coaches once praised him for is still going strong too.

"I'm back in the Bay Area where it all started," he told Cougfan.com in a recent phone interview. "I am just trying to give back any way possible and encourage all kids that they can do whatever they want to. If they put their mind to it they can do it."

The former first-team Associated Press All-American is the defensive backs coach for the El Cerrito Gauchos, a high school situated near the east shores of San Francisco Bay, a stone's throw from the Golden Gate Bridge.

Thompson played for the Gauchos before Mike Price brought him to Pullman in 1997. Now he preaches the personal philosophy that led to his rise from moderately recruited high school defensive back to Pac-10 star to second-round NFL draft pick.

Thompson burst onto the Cougar scene in arguably the most important game in school history: the 1997 Apple Cup. A victory would send the Cougars to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1931. Thompson was in the starting lineup that day because of an injury to senior Duane Stewart, and he responded by intercepting Brock Huard three times and posting a team-high 12 tackles. The Cougars won 41-35.

Thompson's retelling of what he remembers about the game is an exercise in humility.

"I just wanted to do my part," he says. "(Huard) threw me a couple. I was just there to catch them. It just all happened. It was so surreal as to how it all happened. It was almost like a dream come true."

For an 18-year-old from out-of-state, the week just leading up to the game was memorable.

"I was from California so I wasn't real familiar with the Apple Cup but that week Coach Price did a really good job of getting everybody up to speed about the meaning of the game," he said.

A THROUGH-THE-YEARS PHOTO GALLERY OF LAMONT THOMPSON AT BOTTOM OF THIS STORY.

"Obviously we were playing for something much more than the Apple Cup. It was the opportunity for us be Pac-10 champions and also go to the Rose Bowl. That hadn't happened in a long time at Washington State.

"There was a lot riding on the line. By the end of the week I was all in and really looking forward to the game."

His work that day was so memorable that Ryan Leaf, in his 2011 book about WSU's magical run to Pasadena, wrote of the Apple Cup victory: "For Lamont, who was just a true freshman, it was a coming out party that foreshadowed his eventual place among the all-time greats at WSU."

That may be an understatement.

To this day, a dozen years since his last college game, Thompson ranks as the most prolific pass interceptor in Pac-12 history and one of the top 10 in FBS history, with 24 career swipes. In a 20-14 win over UCLA in 2001, he picked off four passes, tying the conference single-game record, which also remains atop the books.

Thompson is hesitant to talk about his individual accomplishments. And a little prodding helps only so much.

"Just with all the fine defensive backs that came through the Pac-10, Pac-12. I just wanted to leave my mark. I was blessed, fortunately, to get the record," he says modestly.

Given all the up-tempo, pass-heavy offenses in the league nowadays, it's a record that truly has withstood the test of time.

"There should be a trivia question for that. Not too many people know it," he said of his mark.

Thompson also set a standard of a different sort. He started his career on the 10-win Rose Bowl team and concluded it in 2001 on the 10-win Sun Bowl team.

Given the last 10 years of Cougar football, that's a sandwich of success that seems almost other-worldly.

But in between there were trials and tribulations. The 1998 team followed up the Rose Bowl with just three wins, and in 1999 depth issues forced Mike Price to move Thompson to cornerback, and also try him briefly at receiver. The Cougs won only three games that year.

THOMPSON NABS 1 OF HIS 4 INTs IN 2001 WIN OVER UCLA.

Then Thompson's football world turned upside down. He missed all of the 2000 season with a serious neck injury that had people speculating, even insisting, his career was done. The Cougs lost three games in overtime that season and finished 4-7.

The neck healed and doctors gave Thompson the green light to suit up in 2001. Back at his natural position, safety, Thompson proceeded to turn in a masterful season that earned accolades far and wide. Moreover, as a fifth-year senior, he was helping groom youngsters who also would leave memorable legacies in Pullman. Erik Coleman, Jason David and Marcus Trufant all followed him into the NFL.

Thompson hasn't been back to Pullman since his Senior Pro Day, though he regularly watches WSU games on television. Last spring, however, he reconnected with the program when he flew to Coeur d'Alene for the Legends golf event that celebrated the '97 Rose Bowl team.

Thompson's NFL career has been over since 2007. He played parts of six seasons with the Jaguars, Titans, Dolphins and Bengals. He started 45 games for the Titans, and finished his career with nine interceptions and 259 tackles.

Now, he says, it's all about the next generation. He looks forward to teaching what he learned. He also doesn't mind giving his more gifted players advice about where to play college ball, though he is careful not to push too hard.

Last year, his star pupil at El Cerrito, cornerback Marcellus Pippins, chose the Cougs over UCLA, Utah, San Diego State and others.

The three-star recruit is scheduled to arrive in Pullman in January. Scout.com ranked him the 79th best cornerback in the nation in 2013.

"Honestly, I just shared my experience with him," Thompson said. "He went down there on a recruiting visit and he enjoyed it. From there I got more in-depth with what he can expect when he goes there as far as how it's a college town.

"I was happy that he got the opportunity to go there and experience it for himself. He fell in love with it."

As for Pippins' skills on the field, Thompson says, "He's a very gifted, athletic football player. There's nothing that he can't do on the football field."

Sounds sort of familiar, doesn't it?

A PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY OF LAMONT THOMPSON'S WSU AND NFL CAREER:

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