BELTON — It sometimes takes words of wisdom and the life experiences of others to dissuade someone from making a rash decision, even if the individual believes his or her choice is the correct one. BJ Thompson faced such a scenario two years ago and it took the advice of a loved one for Belton’s senior safety to realize that he wasn’t done with football just yet.
“I didn’t really want to play football anymore,” Thompson said. “It was my dad that really convinced me to stick with it.”
After moving from Waco before his freshman year, Thompson was placed on Belton’s junior varsity team and played quarterback. He was shifted later that season to receiver and thrived in his new role, and said he was promised by Belton’s former coaching staff that he would be promoted to varsity if he continued to play well.
Thompson stayed the course and steadily improved, but after his sophomore season with no opportunity to advance in sight, he was ready to throw in the towel, believing he would never get to experience the Friday night lights.
That was until his dad, Bradley, told him a story.
“I remember crying with one of the coaches because I did want to play football, but I felt with everything happening, there was no reason for me to play,” Thompson said. “My dad made me realize that quitting wasn’t the right thing to do just because things weren’t going right. He told me about how he wished he could have played in high school again and how he messed up his opportunity to play in college.”
Thompson took his dad’s word to heart and chose to continue on with the game he was passionate about. More than a year later, Thompson finally got the opportunity he desperately sought, though it arrived a little differently than he imagined it.
With several voids in Belton’s defense to start this season, first-year head coach Brett Sniffin and his staff decided to place Thompson in the Tigers’ secondary, not only making this Thompson’s first year on varsity, but also playing defense.
“I was told I’d be playing defense probably two weeks before regular-season practices began,” said the 6-foot-2, 168-pound Thompson, who leads Belton (0-3) with 18 tackles to go along with two fumble recoveries as the Tigers open District 12-6A play tonight against Killeen at Leo Buckley Stadium. “Sometimes (learning safety) was confusing because a lot of what I thought I should do was not what I should do. I had to go against my instinct and learn to do things a different way. It wasn’t too challenging, but after playing wide receiver for so long, I understand how defensive players feel.”
Sniffin said Thompson gives the Tigers additional brains on defense and his ability to learn on the fly has only increased as the weeks have progressed.
However, sometimes Thompson’s stubbornness can be his greatest adversary.
“He’s headstrong for one and that can be a positive or a negative. He has his mind set on some things and it can be a challenge getting him to change it,” said Sniffin, who also mentioned that Thompson cooks a “mean burger” at Hat Creek Burger Company where he works. “He’s very intelligent and helps us line up correctly on defense. He just keeps improving each week in the secondary.”
By his own admission, Thompson said his attitude has been a problem in the past and might have contributed to his lack of acceleration to Belton’s varsity squad. However, those issues are no longer a part of Thompson’s character, something of which he has devoted a lot of effort to ridding.
That’s not to say the struggle to take constructive criticism has completely disappeared.
“I do have an attitude problem sometimes, but I try to control it,” Thompson said. “I was raised in an area where you have to stick up for yourself and not let anyone walk over you. I know I’m not supposed to, but I won’t let anybody talk down to me or disrespectfully.
“The coaches tell me where to go and I go where they tell me. It’s that simple. I try not to do my own thing anymore and listen to coaching — or at least I try to.”
Starting off 0-3 was not how Thompson thought his varsity career would begin and he said at times it’s been a challenge to stay positive. And while Belton’s schedule won’t get any easier moving forward, Thompson believes that if he and his teammates can remain mentally focused every time they’re on the field, then the Tigers have a great shot of returning to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year.
“We have a lot of people who don’t want to focus up before the game and then they want to focus in the second half, and that hasn’t been working for us,” Thompson said. “It’s OK to play around sometimes, but I just don’t think it is right to not be serious before a game. We really have to work on our maturity. If we can fix that, we’ll be a really good football team.”