Skylar Thompson uses a vivid metaphor to explain the ups and downs he experienced as a Kansas State quarterback last season.
Imagine your boss calls you into his office and says you will be fired after your next mistake. It doesn’t matter how big or how small that mistake happens to be. If you aren’t perfect from here on out, you’re losing your job.
“That is how I felt,” Thompson said. “If I missed a throw or didn’t score a touchdown in a certain situation I knew I was going to get pulled out. I was afraid to make a mistake. If you’re playing like that, or working like that at your job in the real world, things get tough. It robbed me of my confidence and hurt me a lot on the field. It was hard.”
Thompson can speak openly about his past struggles because things are different now. He’s happier and much more confident.
Instead of playing musical chairs with Alex Delton (the new starter for TCU) at quarterback, Thompson is now the unquestioned leader of K-State’s offense. New coach Chris Klieman put his trust in Thompson the first day he arrived on campus and their relationship has grown ever since.
Klieman has made it clear he wants to rotate players at most positions against Nicholls on Saturday, but the Wildcats will need to be winning by a huge margin in the fourth quarter for Thompson to leave the game. He’s the quarterback, no matter what.
“I have seen so much more confidence, so much more growth from the spring to the fall to really believe he’s going to have an outstanding season this year,” Klieman said. “I am so excited for him. He knows it’s his job and the players have responded very well. He’s one of our captains and done a great job of leading our guys.”
Thompson felt like he was unable to reach his full potential last season while completing 122 of 208 passes for nine touchdowns and four interceptions.
The junior from Independence, Mo., wants more this season.
“This is an opportunity I have prepared for my whole life,” Thompson said. “I have sacrificed so many things in my life to be in this position. Experiencing all the adversity I have had in my career here has made me cherish this opportunity even more, because it hasn’t been an easy road. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t rather have it any other way. Through the hard times and adverse season last year I have grown so much and learned so much as a football player and as a leader and as a teammate. I am super thankful for this opportunity and I’m not going to let anyone take it away from me.”
A little confidence goes a long way for Thompson.
That’s abundantly clear now. Perhaps it should have been obvious earlier.
A look back at Thompson’s 19 games with the Wildcats shows that he has always played his best when he was the obvious choice to start and finish games. As a redshirt freshman, he was thrust into action following injuries to Jesse Ertz and Delton and guided K-State to dramatic victories over Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. The Wildcats let him loose and he guided them to the postseason.
But when they took the field for the Cactus Bowl that year and Delton was active, well, things were different. Thompson started the game, but he was yanked after tossing an early interception. Delton took over and ran all over UCLA on his way to MVP honors.
Just like that, a quarterback controversy was born.
It was the same story last year. Thompson had his brightest moments against Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Iowa State when Delton was unable to play. Thompson finished the season with two strong efforts, including 213 yards against the Red Raiders and three touchdowns in the season finale. But his stats were much less impressive when he split time with Delton.
As K-State’s top QB, Thompson has completed 61.7% of his throws for an average of 143.4 yards per game. But when he has faced any threat of a quarterback battle, those numbers dropped to 54.7% and 88.1. He’s thrown nine touchdowns as a carefree passer compared to just three as a quarterback worried about losing his job.
Bottom line: Thompson is at his best when he’s THE guy.
“Quarterback competitions, they are never easy,” K-State QB coach Collin Klein said. “I went through a couple of them myself, but it makes you tougher going through it. He has done it the right way and treated his teammates extremely well and kept the team first. That all has paid off and helped his development to this point. And he has still got two years left. There is a lot of football to be played.”
Perhaps that will lead to big things this season as he tries to make the big leap K-State quarterbacks with starting experience traditionally have as they become upperclassmen.
Thompson gets a fresh start this year. He’s in command of a new offense with a coaching staff that suits him.
The other day at practice he tossed an interception and didn’t flinch when he saw defensive back A.J. Parker come up with the pick. Thompson tried an ill-advised throw across his body and knew instantly he made a poor decision, but his coaches didn’t say a word. He shook it off and moved onto the next play.
This season, he gets to play through his mistakes.
“It’s just something that I am going to use as fire in my belly,” Thompson said. “I just don’t believe I have been able to play to my full potential yet I am excited. I realize I am going to make a mistake here or there. I am going to throw an interception in a game. I don’t want to, but it’s going to happen. Just having a coaching staff that over and over reminds me to be confident and to play aggressive is a blessing.”