Through two games, WSU strong safety Jalen Thompson is off to a hot start, and WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch says there’s no ceiling on his potential
Jalen Thompson didn’t want to show it in front of his new teammates, but, inside, the kid was freaking out.
It was September 2016, and Thompson had just been told that he would start at strong safety for Washington State in its season opener against Eastern Washington. Mixed in with his excited disbelief – he was starting in his very first college football game as a true freshman! – was an acute anxiety.
So Thompson did what he always does when he needs advice. Four hours before the game, he called his father.
“Dad, I’m so nervous right now,” Thompson said as soon as his father, Demond Thompson picked up the phone. “I just want to do good. I want to do good for coach, and for you guys.”
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From hundreds of miles away, in Bellflower, Calif., Demond tried to calm his youngest son. This, he knew, was Jalen being Jalen. The boy had always been eager to please, and in his yearning to make his family proud, he was stressing himself out.
“You’re thinking too much,” Demond said. “When you do that, it makes you mess up. Play like you know how to play and go out there and show them what you’ve been taught.”
The earnest freshman didn’t get off to as great as start as he might have hoped. In the second quarter of the Cougars’ eventual season opening loss to EWU last season, Thompson got burned by EWU receiver Cooper Kupp for a 75-yard score.
“He ran like a slant route over the middle. They faked the run so our linebackers came flying down, and it was wide open,” Thompson said. “I took a poor angle and he got free.”
Touchdown, Eastern Washington; welcome to college football, Jalen Thompson.
“That was a lesson to be taught,” Demond says, laughing as he recalls his youngest son’s memorable debut for WSU. “He got burned. No excuses or nothing. He got outplayed that game. He got torched. I think he learned a little lesson after that.”
A year later, as the 21st-ranked Cougars (2-0) welcome Oregon State (1-2) to Martin Stadium for their Pac-12 opener on Saturday, Thompson has matured from a nervous freshman into a steady sophomore who’s become one of the key pieces in the Cougars’ defensive secondary.
Thompson opened the year on a high note, by intercepting Montana…