Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson isn’t normal.
Not according to teammate (and adoring fan) John Ross, at least.
“There’s something wrong with that kid,” Ross said following Washington’s 31-7 win against Cal on Saturday. “Honestly, he’s my favorite college football player.”
It’s hard to argue with Ross’ analysis. How else can you explain how one player has scored four defensive touchdowns through just six games?
“I’d like to say coaching,” Washington coach Chris Petersen joked. “But he just has the football 'it factor.' That’s really it.”
There's a right-place, right-time aspect to it, but Thompson attributed it to mentality.
"We don’t ever fall on balls," he said. "We always have the mentality to scoop and score. If you can’t get it, then you fall on it."
At the midway point, Thompson has scored more defensive touchdowns than any player has in a full season over the past 10 years. And only one team in the country (Temple) has more than him this year (5). Factor in the 57-yard rushing touchdown he scored against Eastern Washington -- the Huskies’ longest rush of the year -- and Thompson’s touchdown total is more than Southern Methodist has as a team through five games. Yes, a linebacker has scored more touchdowns than an entire team.
“Film speaks for itself,” said Washington outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, who leads the nation with 10 sacks. “Every game he does something amazing … look out for the Heisman right there.”
While Thompson doesn’t have a realistic shot at winning college football’s most prestigious award, it’s not because his case doesn’t have merit. He ranks fifth in the country in forced fumbles (3), second in fumble recoveries (3) and against Illinois became just the third player in history to score on a fumble return and interception return in the same game.
Against Cal, he added a 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown after quarterback Jared Goff lost the ball stretching for the end zone on the first drive of the game. It was the fourth 100-yard play in school history and longest fumble return, but more importantly it changed the trajectory of the game.
“Probably about as big [a momentum change] as you can get,” Petersen said. “I think those kids on defense played really, really well and there wasn’t a better play than that all game. Just in terms of where it came, I think they came out and drove the ball down the field and I’m sure they were thinking, ‘Here we go again, scoring a bunch of points.’
“He seems to always make a play when we need one.”
Playing at Cal was a homecoming of sorts for Thompson, who grew up about an hour and a half from Berkeley in Sacramento and had about 20 family members in attendance -- including his brother, Syd’Quan, who played at Cal from 2005 to 2009. Thompson originally committed to Cal, but looking back, Thompson said he’s happy with how things have played out.
“I chose UW because I didn’t want to follow in my brother’s footsteps,” he said. “UW was a great place for me.”