Thompson looks to prove himself
In this Oct. 26, 2013 file photo, South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson throws a pass during the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Missouri, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson, File)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Dylan Thompson doesn't believe he's done much to show he's South Carolina's starting quarterback, even if he's given the Gamecocks several special moments during his time as backup.
Thompson said that last season he spent most of his time on the bench with little significant action behind starter Connor Shaw during the 11-2 season. So with Shaw off to the NFL, Thompson said he's ready to prove he belongs in charge of the Gamecocks offense this fall.
"I think a lot of people have been talking about me having a great year, blah, blah, blah, and trying to boost me up," he said Wednesday. "But let's be real about it, I threw four touchdowns and three interceptions last season.
"There's no reason for me to get hyped up right now," he said.
There are plenty of Gamecock fans excited about Thompson, especially with the big moments he's brought to the team when called upon.
It was Thompson who spelled an injured Shaw at Death Valley in 2012, leading the Gamecocks to a 27-17 victory over Clemson — the fourth of South Carolina's five straight rivalry wins.
Thompson was the super-sub a month later when he jumped in for a limping Shaw in the final minute of the Outback Bowl and connected with Bruce Ellington on a 32-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left to beat Michigan — a game remembered more for defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's helmet-dislodging hit on the Wolverine's Vincent Smith.
Thompson acknowledged thinking the way he ended that season would give him a chance at much more playing time last fall. Instead, Shaw shook off several injuries during the year to become the Gamecocks' unquestioned leader as they rose to No. 4 nationally.
"It was not that I was upset, but it went different than I had planned," he said. "But I learned that every rep matters, every single rep matters."
In fact, Thompson credits South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier for the mental edge the quarterback developed because he was unsure when he'd get called on. "I think that helped," he said.
Thompson's had his ups and downs with Spurrier, the Heisman Trophy winner known for chewing up passers who don't perform. One day, Spurrier is barking orders and picking apart his style, Thompson said, and the next he's cutting up with him. "It's a lot of you don't know what you're going to get," the quarterback said with a smile.
Spurrier, when asked about his backup quarterbacks in the spring, answered, "Well, we'll have to keep Dylan healthy."
Spurrier said last month that Thompson has prepared himself well to take over. Thompson is more of a downfield passer who is confident that promising receivers like Damiere Byrd and Shaq Lawson will give him fast, lanky targets this fall.
Thompson will also have one of the deepest offensive lines in the Southeastern Conference led by tackle Brandon Shell and guard A.J. Cann, plus 1,000-yard rusher Mike Davis in the backfield.
Thompson recently returned from a football mission trip to Israel and is heading off Thursday to work at the Manning Passing Academy this weekend. He found out about that in typical Spurrier style with the Gamecocks coach calling him this offseason to say, "Archie Manning's going to call you."
Thompson, while blindsided, hung in there and spoke with the Ole Miss and NFL great for 20 minutes or so.
Thompson's prepared for a similarly surprising ride this season with the Gamecocks, knowing that's he's put in the time to succeed.
"If we win the SEC this year, that's cool," he said. "If we don't, I know I did what I could to help the team be as good as we can be."
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