Hands down, Paul Thompson had the best throwing arm of any Oklahoma wide receiver last year. That was the problem. He wanted to be the quarterback. It’s been quite the plight for the fifth-year senior.
He began his career as a true freshman backup to Nate Hybl and later, to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White. Last season, he was asked to switch positions to wide receiver after the addition of the talented Rhett Bomar under center.
But Bomar was kicked off the team after accepting excessive compensation from a private company, and now Thompson’s back where he started, albeit with a world’s more experience.
“I definitely didn’t expect the back and forth, but there is adversity that a lot of people go through, and it just depends on how you carry yourself and how you handle it,” Thompson said. “There have definitely been ups and downs, but I’ve stayed focused, never doubted myself, never doubted my ability of what I could do, and this is where it has gotten me.”
For Thompson, the patience is paying dividends.
The season’s numbers are solid — 61 percent completion percentage, 2,434 yards passing, 20 touchdowns to eight interceptions — and the team, after a 3-2 start and without star running back Adrian Peterson for the last six games, is back in a BCS bowl game.
It’s something Thompson knew he always had in him, even while running routes and catching balls he thought he should be throwing.
“When I decided to come here, I knew I could come here as a quarterback,” Thompson said. “I definitely felt I had the skills to play at this level. Even when I did go to receiver, I still felt like I had those abilities.”
When coach Bob Stoops decided on the position switch, Thompson didn’t pout. He had waited three years to assume the quarterback duties and was being passed over for a hotshot freshman.
But Thompson just went back to work, immediately taking on a leadership role among the receivers.
“He never got down on himself or anything like that, he just kept rolling,” wide receiver Malcolm Kelly said. “That’s just the type of guy he is. Whatever the team needs is what he’s doing.”
One of Thompson’s more overlooked assets is that ability to lead. When Oklahoma had its chance to crumble without Peterson and Bomar, Thompson helped keep the team together.
With a Fiesta Bowl berth on the line in the Big 12 championship game against Nebraska, it was Thompson who helped orchestrate a 99-yard scoring drive to help clinch the win for the Sooners. After two plays that didn’t move the ball, Thompson completed a 35-yard pass to Jermaine Gresham on a third-and-10 from Oklahoma’s own 1-yard line. Eight plays later, the Sooners were on their way into the end zone, and then on to Glendale.
“He’s done a fantastic job,” Stoops said. “He’s been very consistent for us. Very poised, very calm.”
Through four prominent bowl games — Rose, Sugar, Orange, Holiday — Thompson’s done whatever he’s been asked, without complaint. He’s backed up quarterbacks, he’s switched positions, he’s tutored younger players.
On New Year’s Day, he will be thrust to the forefront — the starting quarterback on one of the most celebrated teams in the country, in one of the biggest bowl games of the year.
So now, does Thompson finally envision himself that shining star that has been so long in the making?
“I wouldn’t hate it, but that’s not what it’s about,” Thompson said. “I just want to get that championship and have that under this team’s name, under my name. That’s the main thing. MVP, all that, that’s just extra.”