Thompson makes himself at home Converted running back makes immediate impact at linebacker for Terps

September 11, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- When Aaron Thompson walked out of the Maryland locker room Saturday night to meet his family and friends, he truly realized how much fun it could be playing major college football close to home.

"I think the greatest feeling a player can have is to be greeted by your whole family right after a victory," said Thompson, who attended Mount St. Joseph and Forest Park. "Just about my whole family was here to go out to dinner with me and I hope I can do it a lot more before my career is over."

The entire evening was perfect for Thompson, from trotting onto the Byrd Stadium turf for pre-game workouts before a 23-15 victory over James Madison to the final goodbye to his mother.

He not only was part of Maryland's first victory since last Oct. 4, but he had made 11 tackles and had one sack that caused a fumble in his collegiate debut.

Making the performance even more remarkable was the fact the 6-foot-1, 220-pound redshirt freshman was just converted from running back to linebacker before spring practice.

But he was listed next to two of the team's most gifted players, senior linebackers Eric Barton and Kendall Ogle, as the leaders in tackles Saturday. Ogle was tops with 12 tackles, Thompson had 11 and Barton checked in with nine.

"I've looked up to Eric and K.O. [Ogle] ever since I've become a linebacker, and I realized I had a long ways to go to be like them," said Thompson. "They've encouraged me all along. This makes me feel like I've learned something from all the work we've put in during last summer and this fall."

Ogle said: "Aaron never wanted to be the weak link among us and if he messed up once on a certain play, he made sure it didn't happen again. That's how dedicated and devoted he is to the game."

Ogle said Thompson even "got mad at me for not jumping on his butt if he made a mistake."

Said Thompson: "The coaches were yelling at me for messing up but K.O. and the other players weren't saying anything to me. I felt like I really didn't belong on the team. Now I feel much better because K.O. is the first to jump on me if I make a mistake and the first to pat me on the back if I do well."

Even though he has been an instant success at linebacker, there is still a part of Thompson that wonders what it would be like to run with the ball.

After all, Thompson rushed for 2,325 yards and 37 touchdowns as a senior at Mount St. Joseph and was named The Sun's All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year.

"I know if I ever get my hands on the ball, I don't plan on letting

anything come in my way of getting into the end zone," he said. "It took me three days to accept the switch. I really struggled with it, but once I had a chance to interact with my teammates and realized it was best for the team, I was OK. I don't think that much about it anymore."

Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden said he had thoughts about Thompson as a possible linebacker from the first time he saw him play as a running back in a postseason all-star game shortly after Vanderlinden succeeded Mark Duffner.

"I had an eye on him all along as a linebacker, and we had a need for him at that position," said Vanderlinden. "He's very similar to Kendall Ogle, who also switched from running back. Aaron's JTC fast, has good size, enjoys playing football and is conscientious, just like Kendall."

Vanderlinden said he was impressed by his first conversation with Thompson after he watched him perform in the all-star game.

"I asked Aaron if I could come to his house and talk to him," Vanderlinden said. "Most youngsters are really happy to have you come. But Aaron said his mother was sleeping because she had to go to work later that night. I just got the feeling that he has had to overcome a lot in his life."

Thompson said, "Nothing has ever come easy for me. Not that I'm saying other people haven't had to work hard for things. It's just the way my life has been."

But there is no dimming his enthusiasm now that he is realizing a dream that began when he used to attend Maryland football games as a youngster with his uncle.

"I used to just dream of playing in Byrd Stadium," he said. "I even used to come out and look at the stadium last year when I was redshirting and I'd imagine myself playing in it."

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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