Shaq Thompson didn’t need much time to decide where he wants to play football next season.
No surprise here: three days after the Washington Huskies ended their 2014 season, Thompson, a junior linebacker, announced that he will forego his senior year of college to enter the NFL draft.
His final year at UW was well-rounded — Thompson played linebacker, safety, running back and special teams, earned multiple first-team All-America honors, and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.
He announced his decision to go pro on Monday morning, which included a prepared statement thanking his coaches, family and Huskies fans for their support during his three-year career at Washington.
“It feels good. I can finally get it out and not keep it a secret anymore,” Thompson said during a teleconference on Monday night. “Just the start of a new life, a new chapter that I’m going to move forward in and just ready to go for the ride.”
Thompson is already in San Diego, where he will begin training on Tuesday at the EXOS, formerly Athletes Performance, facilities. He wants to get faster, he said, and work on “just being an all-around football player.”
Discussions with his mother, brother and uncle helped him reach the conclusion that he should go pro. Huskies coach Chris Petersen didn’t try to recruit him to stay, Thompson said, telling him simply that “if it’s worth going, by all means, go ahead. And he just wished me luck and all that.”
He said he’s already discussed a plan to return to UW in the future to finish his degree.
Thompson is viewed by pundits as a likely first-round pick, a projection that made this decision pretty obvious. ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay each project Thompson as a middle first-round pick. CBSSports.com senior draft analyst Rob Rang lists Thompson as the No. 14 overall pick in his most recent first-round NFL mock draft, writing that the Sacramento, California, native “projects best as a hybrid defender in the NFL.”
Rang said this past week that Thompson’s best fit is likely as a hybrid outside linebacker and safety in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Thompson, listed at 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds, said his preference is to play outside linebacker, with strong safety his next choice.
He did a little bit of everything in 2014, recording 81 tackles while setting a UW record with four defensive touchdowns — three on fumble recoveries and one on an interception return. Thompson also filled in at running back when needed, and did it with better efficiency than any other tailback on the roster. He rushed 61 times for 456 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per carry.
Thompson thinks his two-way experience made him a better prospect.
“It really helped perfect myself as a player, just to understand both sides of the ball,” he said, “and it really helped me on offense at running back because I had the defensive mindset, and I was reading the defense and linebackers and just anticipating where they’re going to be. And just visualizing: ‘If I hit this hole, is there going to be something there,’ and whatnot. It made me a better football player, honestly.”
His versatility recalls his prep career at Grant High School in Sacramento, where he starred on both sides of the ball and earned a 5-star rating from several recruiting outlets.
Thompson originally committed to California, where his older brother Syd’Quan played, but changed his mind and ended up committing to UW just before signing day.
He said he’s proud of the three-year career that ensued.
“It was just memorable, and I had a great time there, even with the coaching change,” Thompson said. “Just being around the players and the bond I built with them as brothers will never go away, and that’s just something special that I’ll keep forever.”
QB Williams to transfer
The Huskies announced another roster defection on Monday — redshirt freshman quarterback Troy Williams has left the program and will seek to transfer.
Williams is a former four-star prospect out of Narbonne High School near Los Angeles. He appeared in five games for UW in 2014, and started UW’s 24-10 loss to Arizona State in place of the injured Cyler Miles.
In that game, Williams completed 18 of 26 passes for 139 yards and two interceptions in severe weather conditions.
UW also announced the enrollment of three players on Monday — freshman quarterback Jake Browning, the record-setting Folsom High product who signed financial aid paperwork with the Huskies in September; sophomore defensive back Ezekiel Turner, a transfer from Los Angeles Pierce College who signed a letter of intent in December and has four years of eligibility remaining to play three seasons; and offensive lineman Devin Burleson, who signed a letter of intent in February but delayed his enrollment.
Each player is on campus and will participate in spring practices.