West Virginia's dazzling receiver Tavon Austin, seen here gaining yardage against Connecticut, is helping young and undersized Jordan Thompson follow in his footsteps.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Jordan Thompson is not your prototypical Division I wide receiver.
He stands at 5 feet 7, 164 pounds. His nickname is "Squirt" -- hardly imposing.
He wasn't recruited heavily and is not yet the next Tavon Austin, the team's dazzling receiver already making Heisman lists this year.
But Thompson is fast. He can change direction quickly. He can make plays in space.
What: West Virginia vs. Marshall
When: Noon, Sept. 1
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.
And that just might make him the perfect addition to Dana Holgorsen's offense at West Virginia.
"Some people doubted me," Thompson said. " 'You're too small to play Division I football.' In my head I'm like, 'No. Tavon's out there. He's just my size. He's out there doing it.' That gave me [the thought], 'No. I can prove these guys wrong.'"
Thompson arrived in January as one of five players to enroll early.
He'd gotten a call in the middle of class just a few months earlier as a senior at Katy High School outside of Houston, Texas -- where he took calculus as an elective.
He had been in talks with West Virginia's coaches and was well aware of the Mountaineers and how small, fast receivers are utilized in Holgorsen's spread offense.
He was in.
"I saw what Tavon was doing his sophomore year," Thompson said. "Last year ... he just exploded. I sat and watched with my family. I was like, 'Dang. He's just as small, has the same body type as me.' So I knew I could do something in college football."
Thompson's high school coach, Gary Joseph, knew a little bit about Holgorsen's offense.
"I've known coach Holgorsen for a long time. Watched him at Texas Tech. Watched him at the University of Houston," Joseph said. "From that standpoint I knew they could use him in their scheme.
"I knew it had to be the right program, the right situation. [Thompson] caught the ball very well in high school. He's a very confident kid. I thought it'd have a chance of carrying over."
So far, it has.
Holgorsen named him one of four starters at receiver late last week, along with Austin, Stedman Bailey and senior J.D. Woods.
Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, last year's receivers coach, said it's probably too early to start calling Jordan the next Tavon, but there are certainly a lot of good qualities that have earned him a place in the lineup.
"I haven't been around anybody like Tavon. To make that comparison might be a stretch," Dawson said. "But size-wise, I think you can make that comparison. The number one thing he's got is an unbelievable attitude. He's always got a smile on his face. He's always upbeat. His body language is always positive."
Austin, who has fantastic speed and the ability to change direction on a dime, said he has helped the young wideout with one particular skill that has kept him from getting pounded unnecessarily.
"I always tell him: 'Squirt, use the sideline. It's your best friend,' " Austin said.
Austin said he has been popping over the edge of the field since he was in youth football, a necessity for a small player. "My cousin always told me you don't think you can get out of the way, run out of bounds."
It's something, said Dawson, that Thompson picked up quickly.
"I think it takes a couple times getting hit pretty hard," he said. "Like when you were a little kid, anybody tell you not to put your hand on the stove? You do it one time, what you gonna do?"
If Austin or Stedman Bailey get doubled in a game, Thompson will likely not, freeing him up to get open and make plays.
"He came in definitely making plays," said Austin. "He definitely improved since the spring on his blocking. Overall he's a good player. I'm looking forward to seeing [what he can do]."