This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Even if Utah's plans for Jason Thompson in the Las Vegas Bowl were a closely guarded secret, it was only natural that he alert his family: Hey, this game that nobody expects me to play in? You might want to tune in.
But that was it, said his brother Everrette. No details.
"He said, 'You'll see.' "
They didn't have to wait long. On the first play, Thompson lined up in the left slot, received a pitch from Devontae Booker and fired a lateral back across the field to Travis Wilson, who then hit Kaelin Clay downfield for a 36-yard gain.
It was Thompson's first game action since 2012 suddenly eligible hours before kickoff because he'd completed a full academic year on the sidelines after his transfer from Wyoming.
He finished with just five rushing yards and three special teams tackles. His one official passing attempt, an incompletion to Delshawn McClellon, was possibly the last of his college career. But that first play helped set the tone in a 45-10 romp.
Now, after a move from quarterback to safety, he's hoping he's found a new way to propel the Utes to victory.
Thompson has long wanted to be a quarterback, said Everrette, who was a starting defensive end at Washington and explains the size difference thusly: "Eating and sleeping was my thing. My brother has always been hyper."
A two-way player at Kennedy Catholic High, Thompson was limited to under 700 passing yards as a junior by the school's run-heavy offense and initially committed to play safety at Washington.
But former Washington State quarterback Jason Gesser, then a coach at Eastside Catholic High, was impressed by his arm and his poise. After Gesser failed to recruit Thompson to Eastside Catholic, he tipped Wyoming defensive coordinator Chris Tormey to Thompson.
Tormey, who incidentally had recruited Everrette, then told head coach Dave Christensen. Christensen visited, offered, and Thompson accepted.
Thompson's role as a Wyoming true freshman wasn't unlike his varied use in the Las Vegas Bowl: He played running back and slot receiver and started a game at quarterback, finishing 23-for-36 with 195 yards and one touchdown in a 28-27 loss to Air Force.
He redshirted in 2013 as the heir apparent to standout quarterback Brett Smith, who told the Casper Star-Tribune after declaring for the NFL Draft in Decemember 2014, "I know that he's going to be an outstanding quarterback. I don't see my records lasting too much longer."
But Christensen was gone, fired after losses in five of the Cowboys' final six games. Even though Thompson had burned his redshirt and would lose a year of eligibility by transferring, he asked for his release and followed Christensen to Utah.
"I just saw an opportunity to play in the Pac-12, and I wanted to play at the highest level of competition," he said.
Utah's coaches first had the notion that Thompson might have the ability to someday play another position shortly after he arrived on campus. Kyle Whittingham said Thompson's numbers in the weight room were "as good as or exceeding all the guys that are playing safety for us right now."
But enough was thought of Thompson's quarterback skills that despite the presence of five other signal callers, he even received snaps in the spring game, finishing 3-for-4 for 39 yards with four rushes for 12 yards and a touchdown.
It wasn't until the buildup to the Las Vegas Bowl that coaches got their first prolonged look at Thompson as a safety.
Thompson said that when Christensen left for a second straight December this time to become offensive line coach at Texas A&M "I kind of went ahead and figured that I was going to get moved over, with [Utah] having older guys last year at DB and having such a young core back there in comparison to the depth at quarterback."
Coaches made him aware of past converted quarterback success stories. Brian Blechen, one of those, had ribbed Thompson about a future switch last year. Others include wideout DeVonte Christopher, linebacker Chad Manis and current Cleveland Browns outside linebacker Paul Kruger.
Safeties coach Morgan Scalley said Thompson's background as a quarterback makes him a natural at safety.
"He's taken to it well. He studies. He's not a real ego guy, he just takes advantage of all the reps that he gets."
At 6-foot-1, 210, Thompson may be small compared to Everrette, but he's among Utah's largest safeties, with identical measurements to senior Tevin Carter.
He's currently battling sophomores Marcus Williams and Andre Godfrey for the spot opposite Carter and appears to be holding his own even, though Williams and Godfrey received game experience in 2014.
Everrette said one thing you can count on is that Thompson's competitiveness won't wane.
"He has that little brother syndrome. He's always trying to prove somebody wrong."
Quarterback or not, he said.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @matthew_piper
Measurements • 6-foot-1, 210 pounds
From • Renton, Wash.
In high school • All-state safety also played quarterback in run-heavy offense, passing for more than 600 yards as a junior and more than 800 as a senior. First committed to Washington as a safety and then committed to Wyoming as a quarterback.
At Wyoming • Played in six games as a true freshman in 2012, starting at running back against Nevada and at quarterback against Air Force. Finished 27-of-52 for 222 yards, one touchdown and one interception, as well as 38 carries for 121 yards and four receptions for 20 yards. Redshirted in 2013.
At Utah • Sat out 2014 season after enrolling in January, then was able to participate in the Las Vegas Bowl as a part-time receiver and quarterback and on special teams.
Personal • Thompson was the football team's dunk champion last year, performing a 360. The exercise and sport science major is related through his grandfather to former Utes Matt and Shawn Asiata.