WASHINGTON STATE’S invitation to the Sun Bowl later this month rekindles memories of one of the greatest careers -- and incredible bowl-game performances -- in Cougar football history. The first and last time the Cougs spent the holidays in El Paso, safety Lamont Thompson turned the game into a farewell for the ages.
The first-team AP All-American and eventual six-year NFL veteran is probably still haunting the dreams of Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton
intercepted Orton twice, broke up another four passes and racked up 10 total tackles en route to 2001 Sun Bowl MVP honors following the Cougars’ 33-27 victory.
His thievery elevated his career total to 24, making him -- to this day -- the most prolific interceptor in Pac-12 history and one of the top 10 in the history of college football.
Thompson’s first interception that day set up a game-tying Drew Dunning
field goal in the third-quarter and his second, in the Cougar endzone, foiled a fourth-quarter charge by the Boilermakers.
The victory gave the Cougars 10 wins for the season -- the first of three-straight 10-win seasons the program would notch.
In typical Thompson fashion, he spent most of the post-game interview session deflecting. "The whole defense deserves that award and the adjustments the coaches made at halftime had a lot to do what we did," Thompson said.
Receiver Nakoa McElrath didn’t hesitate to interject when quarterback Jason Gesser
was asked about Thompson’s heroics. "That's why he's an All-American," the receiver proclaimed.
The accolades for Thompson continue to roll in to this day. This past September the El Cerrito, Calif., product was inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame and yesterday he was picked to
Cougfan.com’s all-time Cougar team
FOR COUGAR FANS, SEEING THOMPSON
rise to the occasion in El Paso was nothing new. In a dramatic victory over No. 9-ranked UCLA earlier in the season, Thompson tied a Pac-10 record with four interceptions.
And as a true freshman, Thompson burst onto the 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.
His work that day in Seattle was so memorable that Ryan Leaf
, in his 2011 book, 596 Switch
, about WSU's magical run to Pasadena, wrote of the Apple Cup win: "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."
In a 2013 interview with CF.C from his home in El Cerrito, where he is an assistant coach at his high school alma mater, Thompson was matter-of-fact when asked to characterize his college career: “I just wanted to leave my mark.”
His road to greatness wasn’t always smooth.
In between the 10-win seasons that sandwiched his career 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, too.
THOMPSON NABS 1 OF HIS 4 INTs IN 2001 WIN OVER UCLA.|
Then Thompson's football world collapsed, as he missed all of the 2000 season with a neck injury that had people speculating, even insisting, his career was done. The Cougs, meanwhile, lost three games in overtime that season and finished 4-7.
Fully healthy in 2001, Thompson moved back to his natural position, safety, and proceeded to turn in a masterful season.
“It takes a lot of character to come back the way he did, but he is a model student and a model person," then-WSU defensive coordinator Bill Doba
said of Thompson. "He's just a really good kid."
As a fifth-year senior that season, Thompson was helping groom youngsters who also would leave their own memorable, 10-win legacies in Pullman — Erik Coleman
, Jason David
and Marcus Trufant
all followed him into the NFL.
Thompson's NFL career ended in 2007 following turns with the Jaguars, Titans, Dolphins and Bengals. He started 45 games for the Titans, and finished his career with nine interceptions and 259 tackles.
His knack for coaching didn’t end when he finished mentoring Coleman & Co. At El Cerrito High he helped shape Marcellus Pippins
, who is expected to start at cornerback for the Cougars on Dec. 26 when they battle Miami in the 2015 Sun Bowl.
“We have a very close connection,” Pippins said of Thompson in a wsucougars.com story earlier this year. “We would always work after practice on technique and footwork. Then we would break down film together. We would do everything together.
“He talked about Pullman all the time. He said he loved it in Pullman, especially the community, which went into my decision to come here ... We both come from the same place in California. We share the same mentality, to just come out here and play football ...”
Tickets for the 2015 Sun Bowl may be ordered through wsucougars.com or by calling 1-800-GO-COUGS. If you can't attend, you can buy tickets and donate them through a program set up by WSU and the Sun Bowl. The game kicks off at 11 a.m. Pacific time on Dec. 26 with TV coverage on CBS.