Whether he played linebacker, safety, running back or special teams, Washington Huskies junior Shaq Thompson seemed to find a way to make big plays in 2014.
And on Friday, Thompson was named the winner of this year’s Paul Hornung Award, which seeks annually to honor the most versatile player in college football.
“It really hasn’t hit me,” Thompson said in a statement through the Louisville Sports Commission, which sponsors the award. “It’s a great honor for me to be named the Paul Hornung Award winner. I had an opportunity to show my versatility on both sides of the ball this year and I’m just happy that I was able to accomplish all I did this season and be recognized for my efforts. ”
Thompson and his family will be honored at a ceremony in Louisville on Jan. 27.
The junior from Grant High School in Sacramento, California, didn’t play any offense in his first two seasons at Washington, sticking strictly to linebacker. But under first-year coach Chris Petersen, he began dabbling as a ballcarrier.
And he was good at it. On his third carry of the season (and his career), Thompson ran 57 yards for a touchdown against Eastern Washington — and as a linebacker in that game, he recorded 14 tackles, including a sack.
Thompson finished the regular season ranked third on the team in rushing yards with 456, but led the Huskies in rushing through their first 10 games. And his average of 7.5 yards per carry is tops among UW running backs.
As a linebacker, he totaled 71 tackles (tied for fourth-best on the team) despite playing predominantly at running back in three games. He also forced three fumbles, recovered four, and was a standout on special teams — particularly kickoff and punt coverage.
The week after his big game against EWU, Thompson scored the first two of his single-season school record four defensive touchdowns, returning a 36-yard interception and a 52-yard fumble recovery for scores in a 44-19 victory over Illinois.
Thompson later added a 32-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Stanford, and a game-changing, 100-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Huskies’ 31-7 victory at California.
After the UW’s top two running backs, Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman, who each suffered injuries in a loss to Oregon, Thompson accepted close to full-time running back duties for two games.
He rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries against Arizona State and for 174 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against Colorado (totaling 215 yards from scrimmage). Finally, he rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries against UCLA, and also made four tackles at linebacker.
After UCLA, Thompson requested a full-time move back to linebacker, which has always been his preferred position. He started there in each of UW’s final three regular-season games, totaling 13 tackles.
Petersen said earlier this season that he views Thompson as perhaps the best all-around college football player in the country.
“I don’t get a chance to watch everybody around the country,” Petersen said. “But I do see a lot. And I haven’t seen a better football player out there than that guy (Thompson). A better, flat-out football player — in your words, ‘best football player’ in college football.
“There might be somebody who’s the same, all those type of things, but a football player? I know there are some good ones out there, but what this guy does in terms of special teams and offense and defense and all those things, I haven’t seen a better one.”
Thompson has also been named to several All-America teams, including first-team honors from ESPN, CBS Sports, Scout.com and SB Nation, and second-team honors from Athlon Sports and Sports On Earth.
Two of his teammates, seniors Hau’oli Kikaha and Danny Shelton, have also earned a handful of All-America honors in the past week. Kikaha is a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which will be awarded at a ceremony Sunday night in Newport Beach, California.