The walk-on with the legendary last name

WALKING ON TO the Washington State football team next month will be one <b>Tony Thompson</b>, son of Cougar legend <b>Jack Thompson</b>. Tony, a mainstay on last season's Ballard High juggernaut team, recently sat down with CF.C to talk about lessons learn from dad, the life of a tight end, and how he's become a different athlete during his unoffical grayshirt season.

At six-foot-two and 230-pounds, Tony Thompson knows the top three tight ends on the WSU depth chart are all taller and heavier than him. But Thompson, who plans on enrolling in January, brings blocking and pass-catching skills of his own to the table.

"I've always had good hands," said Thompson. "I think I could put that to good use at Washington State. And I'm dedicated, learning wise. I've been told I have really good technique. Coach (Doug) Trainor, he's told me my technique is one of my strengths -- because it has to be. Even in high school, those guys were bigger than I was so I had to be solid with my technique."

Cougar fans this year were witness to the difference a healthy Troy Bienemann and Cody Boyd can make. With the tight ends out or less than 100 percent much of the year, the offense struggled at times.

"I think the importance of a tight end, of a good tight end, is so underrated in football," said Thompson. "It can open up everything."

"What you can do with a good tight end is you can really stress the middle of that field. That puts a damper on what the defense can do. They can't run a cover-2 because they won't be able to cover the tight end down the middle. And once they adapt to a good tight end, that spreads everything else out and you get all those wide receivers making catches."

WITH WSU trending towards hulking targets at TE and with the emergence of the two-back set, Thompson could find a calling at fullback. Besides catching 30 balls, running a lot of motion and lead blocking for Ballard his senior year, he lined up in the backfield for certain power-I sets. And he certainly took notice of the Cougs' new wrinkle on offense in '04.

"I like it because its making us, making Wazzu, look more nasty. Pounding the ball down the other guys' throat, I like that. It gives us a totally different look. They didn't do as well as they had in years past but that team is so talented. That's why I keep telling people they're going to come out next year and just -- I think these next few years are going to be pretty good years."

FOR ANY WALK-ON, the road to success is paved with determination and hard work. WSU Hall-of-famer Jack Thompson helped instill those qualities in Tony at an early age. The wisdom passed on from father to son isn't so much Xs and Os as it is how to triumph over adversity.

"I'm blessed to have a guy like him as my dad," Tony said of his father. "We throw the ball every once in a while and that helps of course, but its more about handling stuff off the field. He's taught me to be disciplined, to be respectful of the people I'm playing against and of my teammates. It's helped me not only become a better leader but also a better person off the field."

"If (your opponent) sees you get down on yourself, walking around with your head down, you just give the other team an edge. He's taught me to never keep your head down, to stay on an even keel and to just focus on the next play."

WHEN THE YOUNGER Thompson arrives in Pullman, he'll be a different athlete than the one seen on game film from 2003. He's still 6-2 and 230-pounds, but its a different 230.

"I've lost a little baby fat and added a little muscle. I've basically been working more on explosion, those first few steps. I've gotten a lot stronger in my bench and my squat."

Thompson has spent the winter working on a specific regimen.

"I've been working out in Kirkland at a place called End zone Athletics. Its not just squatting, its squatting fast. Not just bench, its benching fast. It's a lot of really hard weight lifting. And instead of just putting a lot of weight on the bar, its also about adding rubber bands so there's that added resistance. In time, it'll make me better on my explosion."

WALK-ON SUCCESS stories aren't difficult to find at Washington State. In the recent past, Mawuli Davis earned a scholarship in '02, not only starting but thriving at MLB his senior year. Center Mike Shelford worked his tail off for four years on the scout team, got the ride in '03 and was one of the top performers on the line that season. There are others.

Tony Thompson has the drive to be one of those players. He could make his mark on special teams or he could develop into a pretty stout fullback if the Cougs continue to incorporate more two-back into their offense.

Or he could end up being a fine tight end, one with great technique and one who never hangs his head.

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