University of Washington

Chris Petersen: ‘I haven’t seen a better football player out there’ than Shaq Thompson

First, Chris Petersen wants to know the parameters.

If the Washington coach is going to assess Shaq Thompson’s viability as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy, he wants to know exactly what the trophy is supposed to represent.

“What is the Heisman Trophy winner?” Petersen said Monday at his weekly press conference. “What is it? Someone help me with that, and then I can answer your question.”

The by-the-letter response is somewhat cumbersome. The Heisman Trust writes in its mission statement that the trophy intends to honor “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance and hard work.”

That’s not always the reality, though. In general terms, the Heisman winner typically is an offensive player — and typically a quarterback — with exceptional statistics who plays for one of the nation’s top 10 or 15 teams. That’s not stated anywhere as a guideline for voters, of course. But many will not vote for a player whose team loses more than, say, three or four games, and far more consideration is given to players whose teams compete for the national title.

For example: Twelve of the past 14 Heisman winners were quarterbacks. Four of those 14 played on teams that won the BCS national championship, and 10 of them reached the championship game.

So, with the Huskies at 6-3 overall, 2-3 in Pac-12 play and nowhere near the national title conversation, Thompson is unlikely to garner much Heisman recognition despite his unique qualifications: In seven games as a linebacker (though he’s also played some safety), the junior from Sacramento has 54 tackles, a sack, an interception and three fumble recoveries — and he returned all four of those takeaways for touchdowns, including a fumble he recovered in UW’s own end zone and returned 100 yards for a score to spark a 31-7 victory at California.

And in two games as a full-time running back — plus spot duty in a couple games earlier this season — the 6-foot-1, 228-pound Thompson has rushed for 356 yards on 45 carries (7.9 yards per rush) with two touchdowns.

On Saturday during UW’s 38-23 victory at Colorado, he totaled 215 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches.

Thompson’s two-way prowess led Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post to write this week that “Shaq Thompson is not going to win the Heisman, but he would be a credit to the award,” the headline of that column stating that “it’s time to take notice” of Thompson’s credentials.

Certainly, Oregon quarterback and purported Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota, an outstanding player on an outstanding team, would be a deserving winner. So would Dak Prescott, quarterback of the unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Petersen sings Mariota’s praises whenever he’s asked. But if you want to talk pure, overall football talent, Petersen likes his own guy.

“I don’t get a chance to watch everybody around the country. But I do see a lot. And I haven’t seen a better football player out there than that guy (Thompson),” Petersen said. “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.”

Petersen said Thompson will “probably” start at tailback again when the Huskies host No. 18 UCLA on Saturday, but he expects Thompson to play some defense, too.

Tailbacks Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman, both of whom missed the Huskies’ past two games due to injury, are “good to go,” Petersen said. But Thompson might still be UW’s best option in the backfield.

“We’ve got to pick and choose our spots,” Petersen said, “and figure it out and not make it too complicated in terms of what we’re going to do and not overwhelm him, and kind of go from there.”

Kikaha, Shelton recognized

Huskies defensive tackle Danny Shelton and outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha were each included as semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which seeks annually to recognize the nation’s most outstanding defensive player.

Of the 20 semifinalists, five play for Pac-12 teams (Shelton, Kikaha, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Utah defensive end Nate Orchard and USC defensive end Leonard Williams).

Day game in Tucson

Washington’s Nov. 15 game at Arizona is scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. (PST) kickoff on FOX.