Thompson at head of class

Terps linebacker tackles bigger role

September 11, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Imagine this.

Aaron Thompson was just seven games into his collegiate football career at Maryland when he returned to Mount St. Joseph last fall for a homecoming game and received the royal treatment.

The lean and muscular linebacker was not only given a standing ovation during the game against St. Mary's, but they played an old song to honor the athlete simply known as "Train" in high school.

"Come on, Ride That Train," sang the Squad City DJs in a replay of a record Thompson almost wore out at St. Joe three years ago, when he was one of the most prolific running backs in state high school history.

The lyrics cascaded across the field every time Thompson ran for a long gain. And that was often: he rushed for 2,325 yards and 37 touchdowns his senior season.

"I was very appreciative of the way they welcomed me back," said Thompson this week. "I don't know if they blew dust off the album, or what, but they played it."

So what happens now if Thompson goes on to become an All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team linebacker, which some are predicting, and returns to St. Joe?

What can the school do for an encore?

"Whatever they do will be OK with me," he said.

That is a typical Thompson answer.

This week he was asked what has been his proudest moment at Maryland so far, and he responded, "When I got out of study hall at the end of last semester. I have no more extra hours to do, because I reached a 2.5 average."

There is no ego in this youngster, who quietly gave up a potential star career as a runner to become a linebacker at Maryland.

He is a gifted football player who already has 102 tackles, one game into his sophomore season. If Thompson stays healthy, he should surpass 400 tackles and possibly challenge Eric Wilson's school career record of 481.

Thompson put on a linebacking clinic at Franklin Field in Philadelphia last week against Temple, moving his 6-foot-1, 226-pound frame all over the field and finishing with 15 tackles.

"It was a dominant performance by Aaron," said Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden. "He was good in every phase of the game pass coverage, open-field tackling, rushing the passer, handling the tight end and playing with a lot of awareness."

Vanderlinden said Temple "threw the ball a lot to the flanks, and Aaron responded well. He's gone from good to very good. He's not only talented but such a hard worker."

Thompson called his play in the 6-0 victory over Temple "my best game in college."

But he added quickly, "I hope to continue. I don't want to be a one-game wonder." That is not good news for Division I-AA Western Carolina, which comes to Byrd Stadium tonight for a 6 o'clock test.

Although Thompson plays outside linebacker and shifts a lot when the offense changes, he will always be compared to Maryland's two outstanding inside linebackers, Eric Barton and Kendall Ogle, both of whom the NFL drafted last spring.

"I'm going to go and play ball to the best of my ability," said Thompson. "If I live up to people's expectations, that's great. But I can only do what I can do. If people still say I'm not as good as they were, that's OK. If we win, I'll be pleased."

The absence of Barton and Ogle forced Thompson to make more tackles against Temple, he said.

"A few times last year, they just beat me to the play," said Thompson. "This time, they weren't there, so I made the tackle. I was a role player last year, and now I feel kind of like the head of the class. A lot of guys have gained respect for me, and they look to me at times along with a few others to make the big play when we need it the most."

Thompson likes the added responsibility of having to make more tackles.

"It's fine with me. I just love to play football," he said.

Notes: Speedy freshman wide receiver Scooter Monroe (John Carroll) is expected to make his collegiate debut tonight, potentially giving the Terps the sure hands and deep threat they have been missing for most of Vanderlinden's three years at the school. Monroe worked a lot with the first team this week in practice. There is also a possibility that highly touted freshman quarterback Latrez Harrison will see some action against the Catamounts. The strong-armed Harrison did not play against Temple.

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