Saying goodbye to Fred Thompson

Family, friends and former teammates said goodbye to Oregon State freshman Fred Thompson in a memorial service at Oakland Tech High School over the weekend, and the only thing that counterbalances the sadness is that this 19-year-old touched so many people in his too-short life that 800 showed up to pay their respects.

Thompson died Dec. 7 of a heart attack while playing basketball on campus. He would have turned 20 on Dec. 11.

From the Oakland Tribune:

"Look at how many people are in the stands today," said Thompson's high school coach, Delton Edwards. "How many young men do you know who can bring so many people together — people from Richmond, Oakland and Oregon."

More than a few of you have asked if I ever talked to Thompson. I didn't, and it feels as if that was too bad for me. We typically try to say nice things about people who die, but it's clear that people said nice things about Thompson before he passed.

OSU punter Johnny Hekker presented Thompson's football helmet, which had been signed by his college teammates, to his mother.

"This facemask was always filled with a smile during practice," Hekker said, his voice quivering with emotion. "He still touches my life and I'm going to miss him so much."

That a senior punter felt comfortable talking about a freshman defensive lineman is meaningful. Those two years and position groups wouldn't cross paths often, unless there was a reason to reach out and take note. So this gentle giant — 6-foot-4, 317 pounds — who had so much now-unrealizable potential on the football field, apparently stood out to his teammates in a positive way as more than another guy standing around at practice.

Despite his imposing size, Thompson's high school classmates, including Ilse Martinez and Shanisha Perkins, praised him for going out of his way to disarm people with a smile and big bear hugs.

"He was the most lovable free-spirited guy I've ever known," Martinez said. "He was a sweet guy who was always dancing."