The play of Tyrice Thompson this year would suggest the Arizona State senior receiver is a late bloomer.
However, that would be an unfair tag to place on Thompson, who did not get a chance to establish roots at a position until late in his career. Once Thompson did, he showed enough playmaking ability to make the Sun Devils wish he had another year or two of eligibility.
“I could easily say that it would have been nice to be playing there the whole time, but everything happens for a reason,” said Thompson, a Phoenix South Mountain High graduate who played defensive end and tight end before finding a home at receiver. “I don’t gripe and groan about it. …
“When I look back, I’ll think of all of the things I learned at different positions. I got to bump heads with the big linemen as a defensive end and use my speed and agility as a receiver. I’ve learned a lot at each position, which helped me a lot this year.”
Thompson, a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, has caught 14 passes for 244 yards this season. The Dec. 1 game against Arizona was the most notable of his career, as he scored his first collegiate touchdown and made a superb diving catch to set up a field goal.
“Tyrice has had ups and downs,” quarterback Rudy Carpenter said. “This year, he stepped up. It was great to see him get his first chance to make plays.”
Thompson’s delayed impact is partly because of a slow assimilation to major college football. Midway through the 2006 season, he started to get it.
Last year, then-coach Dirk Koetter had high praise for Thompson’s play on special teams. In spring practice, he was noticed on offense — so much so that new coach Dennis Erickson said Thompson had the best spring on the team.
Through all the growing pains, the effervescent Thompson tried his best to be a vocal leader. Carpenter compared his personality to that of Keegan Herring, the Sun Devils’ chatterbox running back.
“Tyrice is different,” Carpenter said. “He has matured a lot in the time he has been here. He’s become an emotional leader for us.”
Earlier in his career, Thompson often spoke up at the risk of rolling eyes from veteran players.
“It’s part of my personality,” Thompson said. “I didn’t get much respect from the older guys just because I wasn’t playing as much. I’ve always talked a lot, but I’m doing it a little more now.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I don’t think the older guys took me seriously because I wasn’t playing. But I always try to bring heart and effort in my play, and try to keep everyone else focused.”
Against Arizona, Thompson’s five-year quest to be an impact player finally culminated early in the second quarter, when Carpenter, under pressure, stepped up in the pocket at the 3-yard line and flipped the ball toward the end zone.
Thompson, who calls himself “The Elevator,” leaped high and outdueled a Wildcat defender for the ball for ASU’s first score of the game. The Sun Devils went on to win, 20-17.
“That was my first touchdown, my redemption for everything I went through, for the pain and tears,” Thompson said. “That was my paycheck. All of the things that I focused on paid off in the end. That’s what made it so special.”
With that reward in his football bank, Thompson, who graduated in May, hopes to make more deposits in the future.
“I’ll start working out and see if there’s a place I can play,” Thompson said.
“If not, I have a backup plan because I do have my degree. I think I’ll be playing football again. I have some options. We’ll see.”