Asked about his reputation for being shy, Valencia High graduate and University of Colorado senior Tedric Thompson provided a different perspective.
“I never thought I was shy,” Thompson said by phone this week. “Just a quiet person.”
A tag Thompson surely has no problem with is one three-plus years in the making.
As No. 8 Colorado — which will play No. 4 Washington tonight in the Pac-12 championship game — has transformed from a conference doormat into a College Football Playoff contender, Thompson has developed into one of the Pac-12’s best safeties.
He’s intercepted a conference-best seven passes this season and was named second-team all Pac-12 on Tuesday.
“He’s a big, athletic safety, has very good ball skills,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said at Pac-12 Media Days, held in Hollywood over the summer. “Tedric is going to be a mainstay for us in the secondary again this year, and we lThook forward to having him making plays.”
The 6-foot, 205-pounder has made good on his coach’s preseason praise.
Thompson intercepted a pass in the Buffaloes’ season-opening win over in-state rival Colorado State on Sept. 2.
He picked off another throw on Oct. 1 against Oregon State. He made 10 tackles in a loss to USC one week later, a game attended by Valencia coach Larry Muir, who had called Thompson up to varsity as a freshman in 2009 after a rash of injuries left the Vikings shorthanded.
Even at that young age, perceived by many as quiet and shy, Muir believed Thompson was ready.
His play spoke for itself.
“(I called him up) because of the maturity he demonstrated on the freshman team,” Muir said in 2011. “He had great instincts. You could watch him when he played, he was making plays on both sides of the ball.”
Thompson made 12 tackles in three playoff games that year before Valencia lost to Moorpark High in a CIF-Southern Section semifinal. From there, he developed into a dynamic two-way player — a threat to beat defenses over the top as a wide receiver and a threat to beat wide receivers to a pulp as a safety.
“He played safety for us — he could have played corner. He played slot receiver — he could have played running back,” Muir said this week. “I wouldn’t doubt he could have played quarterback.”
Thompson did attempt one pass as a senior (it was incomplete), but his biggest impact came on defense where he accumulated 158 total tackles over his final three seasons, earning All-CIF honors in his final campaign.
His favorite memory, he says, was beating Hart 31-20 as a senior in 2012. The rivalry, though, hardly remained bitter.
Current Stanford wide receiver Trent Irwin was on the other side of that 2012 game. This year, after a 10-5 Buffaloes victory over the Cardinal on Oct. 22, Thompson and Irwin shared a few kind words.
“(He) went to Hart. We hate Hart, they hate us, but at the end of the day, we have nothing but love for each other,” Thompson says.
Thompson had a similar interaction with Hart grad Tim White after Colorado beat White’s Arizona State team this year.
“We told each other, we loved each other and wanted the best for each other,” Thompson says.
Coming out of high school, Thompson believed the best for him lay at Colorado, choosing to become a Buffalo over going to the University of Minnesota, Fresno State or UNLV.
As a collegiate freshman in 2013, he started three games for a squad that finished 4-8.
He started the first eight games of 2014 at strong safety before suffering a season-ending concussion against UCLA. According to an Associated Press story, Thompson dipped his head on a tackle and had to be carted off the field.
“After that hit, I didn’t know if I’d play again,” Thompson told the AP. “I’m just glad I’m able to play again.”
Frankly, he didn’t miss much. Colorado finished 2-10.
Thompson returned in 2015 to start all 13 games at strong safety and make 80 tackles, the third-highest total on the team.
He made three interceptions. But the Buffaloes went just 4-9.
The best, by far, was yet to come.
Thompson says he honed in on film study while at Colorado, allowing him to play even faster. Colorado senior defensive back Chidobe Awuzie said at Pac-12 Media Days that Thompson had improved his footwork and man coverage. MacIntyre said the “shy” Thompson had “opened up a lot.”
“This year I’ve seen more and more leadership skills out of him,” the coach said.
So, it seems, everything came together for a senior season in which he was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the week twice — the first after intercepting two passes against Irwin and Stanford, the second after picking off two passes in a critical 27-22 win over Utah on Saturday.
Thompson also broke up four passes in the Utah game, which secured Colorado’s appearance in tonight’s championship. Afterward, he took the opportunity to reflect on his time at Colorado.
“Nobody thought we’d be here, especially four years ago,” he said.
Well, they are. And it’s hard to believe they’ll go down quietly.