Corey Thompson’s mother has seen this man before, the one who wheels around tackles to sack quarterbacks and bursts through offensive lines to disrupt passes.
It’s just been a long, long time since her son displayed these pass-rushing skills on the football field.
“Eighth grade,” Dyan Webber, Thomson’s mother, said during a Sunday morning interview.
Thompson, LSU’s sixth-year senior, played defensive end for “a couple of games” at Lake Olympia Middle School in Missouri City, Texas, a Houston suburb. He lived in the backfield.
“I used to always say to Corey, ‘Corey, I think you’d be a good defensive end.’ I’ve always said that,” Webber said. “He was so quick off the edge, got back to that quarterback so quickly.”
He’s doing it again — a decade later and on a much larger stage.
Through the Tigers’ first two games, Thompson is the breakout defensive star for this team, rolling up a team-high 3½ sacks as coordinator Dave Aranda’s new pass-rushing weapon. It took nearly six years, but the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Thompson is here — the bright lights, for once, shining on his on-field performance rather than off-field injury news.
By now, many know Thompson’s tale. At 23, he’s the second-oldest scholarship player on the team. He's the only sixth-year guy after using three redshirt years: as a true freshman in 2012 while recovering from high school shoulder injuries, in 2014 because of an ACL tear the year before, and last year after suffering a broken leg in camp.
He’s undergone five surgeries in his football career, his mother said, with three of those coming in college. He has not completed a season fully healthy since 2013, and coaches moved him from — safety to outside linebacker – after the 2015 season.
He thought about giving up the game last year, “pushed to the limit,” his mother said, after breaking his leg in preseason camp. He even suffered some “nicks,” she said, in this year’s camp last month, missing several practices.
He overcame it all to get to this point, thriving — with Arden Key out — as the centerpiece in LSU’s new pass-rushing, third-down package: Cheetah.
“He did a great job, how he ran his blitzes and how precise he was with them, coming tight on the edge,” defensive lineman Christian LaCouture said of Thompson’s two-sack season opener against BYU. “He’s been rushing the passer well, been dominant in camp.”
Saturday was supposed to be the big reveal of LSU’s new offense.
Thompson attributes his hot start this season to those injuries, using the downtime to focus on the mental part of the game. Those pass-rushing moves he’s used this season are examples of that. He learned them while laid up — first with the ACL tear that knocked him out of 2014, second with the quadriceps and groin injuries of 2015 and then rehabbing that broken leg last year.
“When you’re hurt, you can be sitting down and see everything on the sideline,” he said. “You see what we do in practice and how it transitions to the game. I saw a lot of things I wouldn’t have saw on the field if I was on the field. It gave me a chance to learn about the game more.”
He’s older now, too, more “focused and composed,” words he uses often to describe himself. Others use different words. His position coach, Dennis Johnson, calls him “Pawpaw,” for instance, jabbing at his age.
He’ll turn 24 in December.
Some of his defensive teammates — LSU consistently rotates in five true freshmen — are six years his junior. Guys like edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and inside linebacker Tyler Taylor were in eighth-grade during Thompson’s first year in Baton Rouge, the 2012 season.
At several points last season, Stephen Sullivan thought seriously about moving from receiver…
The old, grizzled veteran admits that he’s surprised himself through two games. Still, the 3½ sacks fall just short of a single-game objective he’s set for himself: “My goal is two sacks a game,” he said Saturday night. “As long as I’m getting pressure on the quarterback and working the moves and getting to him … I just want to be disruptive.”
Mission accomplished, at least early on.
There’s a tougher road ahead. No. 12 LSU (2-0) visits Mississippi State (2-0) next Saturday night in Starkville.
Thompson’s situation, if Key does return, isn’t quite clear. The Tigers have used Thompson as one of two rush ends (Chaisson) in the Cheetah package, the third-down formation that includes just two defensive linemen, four linebackers and five defensive backs. He’s on the field, too, at his normal position as the F-outside linebacker in the base 3-4 defense, something the Tigers don’t often play.
The staff made a promise, his mother said, to get her son more involved than ever this season. They’re following through.
Aranda, one might say, predicted his success.
“Really excited about Corey,” the coordinator said in a preseason interview. “He gives us the ability to play coverage and rush the passer. He’s one of our better pass rushers.”
LSU safety John Battle played Saturday’s game against UT-Chattanooga with six digits written…
You don’t have to look far to see where he gets it from.
Tony Thompson, Corey’s father, played receiver for Texas A&M in the mid-1980s, and mom Dyan has an Olympic gold medal. A former track star at Texas Southern, Dyan Webber was an alternate on the U.S. 4x100 relay team that won gold at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Thompson is finally flashing that built-in athleticism. He hasn’t been this healthy, he said, since the Texas Bowl in December of 2015. He can’t keep track of all the injuries, but his mother has a running mental list, as mothers do.
He underwent two shoulder surgeries in high school before tearing his ACL in his knee toward the end of the 2013 season. The ACL injury required two surgeries. A year after the original procedure, doctors needed to reopen the wound in January 2015 to “clean it up,” Webber said.
He pulled his groin and his quadriceps early in the 2015 season, forcing him to miss at least three games. And then came that broken leg. His fibula bone snapped about 6 inches above the ankle during camp last year, Webber said.
He broke that news to his mother by texting her a picture of his broken leg.
“I was like, ‘Oh god.’ I was so panicked,’ ” Webber said. "He finally called when the doctor had come in, and I listened in on conference call with the doctor and trainer. He had some ligament damage to go along with it.”
It was a tough time.
“He thought along the lines of ‘Maybe I should just give it up,’ ” Webber said. “I was like, ‘No, Corey. It’s not your ability. It’s just being healthy. It was a fluke. The broken bone was a fluke.'"
A year later, here he is, finally basking in a different kind of limelight.
“We're so happy for Corey. Corey has battled adversity,” coach Ed Orgeron said. “With a great senior year, Corey could be an NFL player.”