John Thompson has two favorite places.
One is his hometown.
“He talks at great length,” Washington State University inside receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard said, “that Spanaway is one of the best places on earth.”
And the other is Pullman, the town in which he plays home college football games.
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A former walk-on from Bethel High School, Thompson is now the de facto starter at wide receiver after River Cracraft’s season-ending knee injury.
In last week’s 38-24 loss to Colorado, the senior made his third career start. He also hauled in his second career touchdown on a 7-yard pass from Luke Falk late in the third quarter.
On Saturday, he very well could get his second career start in the Apple Cup. He was on the field for the first play of last year’s 45-10 defeat at Husky Stadium.
“I have always been a Cougar fan,” Thompson said. “I was never with the Huskies. WSU gave me a chance, and I could not be more blessed.”
At Bethel, Thompson was an all-SPSL South defensive back who injured his ankle during his senior season in 2012, limiting him to five games.
By the time his ankle healed, only one of a handful of colleges that had offered him a scholarship — Central Washington — still kept it on the table.
“I talked to my parents about that,” Thompson said. “I thought I was better than that, so I decided to walk on to a (NCAA) Division I program.”
The obvious choice was WSU. Because his sister, Marcella, had attended the university, he had been going to Cougars football games since he was little.
He reported for preseason camp in August of 2013, and immediately caught the eye of coach Mike Leach. He appeared in two games as a true freshman.
Slowly his reserve role grew: Last season, Thompson caught 24 passes for 255 yards and his first touchdown in a WSU uniform against Arizona State.
But being Cracraft’s direct backup, Thompson knew earning a starting spot was an uphill battle. Cracraft caught 53 passes this year before going down with a torn ACL against Arizona, had 53 receptions last year, 66 in 2014 and 46 in 2013.
“He is a baller,” Thompson said.
Shephard was hired from Western Kentucky last offseason to replace David Yost. Shephard challenged Thompson in two areas before his senior season: bulking up another 10 pounds without losing flexibility, and better accelerating out of the break on his routes.
“On that touchdown catch against Colorado, he did a tremendous job of getting out of his break fast, and accelerating with speed,” Shephard said.
What comes naturally to Thompson, Shephard said, is leadership.
“He was a spark plug, even though he doesn’t say a whole lot,” Shephard said.
With his final Apple Cup on the horizon, Thompson does not regret his decision one bit to come to WSU.
“It was a high risk, high reward decision,” Thompson said. “I am so glad it paid off.”