Shaq Thompson wasn’t ready to make it official , but he knew. The NFL was the next hurdle in a star-kissed career.
When we caught up with the Washington Huskies All-America linebacker on Christmas Eve in Sacramento during a workout, Thompson had the Jan. 2 Cactus Bowl in his immediate sights and the NFL as the ultimate goal, saying, “The NFL is a dream. I’m getting closer.”
Thompson on Monday declared that he would bypass his senior season to pursue that dream and enter the NFL draft. The former Grant star will spend most of the next six weeks in Carlsbad training for the NFL combine.
Thompson, 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, is projected to go as high as 11th overall in some mock drafts. The highest-drafted player from the area was defensive lineman Reggie Rogers (Norte Del Rio), who went seventh overall in 1987 to the Detroit Lions. The highest-drafted linebacker was Dan Bunz (Oakmont), who went 24th overall to the 49ers in 1978 out of Long Beach State. The highest-drafted Grant player was wide receiver Donté Stallworth, going 13th out of Tennessee in 2003.
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Thompson scored four defensive touchdowns this season and won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. He started two games at tailback and rushed for 174 yards against Colorado. Thompson could be drafted as a strong safety. He could also play on kickoff returns.
“I’ll play any position an NFL team wants me to,” Thompson said. “It’s always about the team, what you can do to best help out.”
Louisville safety James Sample, a teammate of Thompson’s at Grant, also is entering the NFL draft. The redshirt junior had four interceptions and led the Cardinals with 90 tackles, 74 of them solo.
Utah running back Devontae Booker (Grant, American River College) also could wind up in the this year’s NFL draft. The junior rushed for 1,566 yards and 10 touchdowns to earn All-Pacific-12 Conference honors (and first-team Pac-12 All-Academic honors). Booker filed paperwork with the NFL, seeking feedback on where he would be projected to be picked.
Utah running backs coach Dennis Erickson, a former 49ers head coach, told Utah media recently: “He’s only been here a year. He has a chance to get into the weight room in the winter, which he hasn’t been able to do, get bigger and stronger and have a tremendous senior year. He has a chance to be an All-American, has a chance to do a lot of things. He’s got to take advantage of that. That’s the message that I’d give him.”
Two-time Bee Player of the Year Jake Browning started freshman classes at Washington on Monday after setting national touchdown marks during Folsom’s 16-0 season. Folsom beat Grant in the CIF NorCal Regional Division I title game. One of the Pacers’ defensive coaches, Syd Quan Thompson, is Shaq’s older brother.
“Syd said Jake’s a great quarterback and will do well at Washington,” Shaq Thompson said. “I wish my boys at Grant fared better against Folsom, but it’ll be fun to see what Jake does in college.”
Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor, who still holds passing records at Cal, said he expects Browning to fit right into the Pac-12.
“I think Jake can be exceptional at Washington,” Taylor said. “He has so much data in his brain, taken so many reps. He’s seen everything. He sees the game at a slow pace, and that’s innate. Can’t teach that. He definitely sees it at a slower pace than I ever did, and the adjustments and poise he has are uncanny. And he’s hard to sack. He has great feet. Washington will love him.”
As time was running out in UCLA’s 40-35 Alamo Bowl victory over Kansas State, Bruins coaches quickly inserted defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (Placer) in the offensive backfield. The goal was to add muscle in the backfield as UCLA was about to take a knee in “victory formation.” Fresh off a time out, Kansas State coaches instructed players to crash the line or vault over it in a desperate attempt to hammer quarterback Brett Hundley. Vanderdoes launched his 305-pound body into a soaring Kansas State defender to defuse the attempt. UCLA coach Jim Mora had a terse, brief postgame handshake with Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who looked stunned. They shook hands again moments later.
Community college honors
American River College defensive tackle Jordan Carrell (Roseville), and Sacramento City linebacker Russell Williams (Laguna Creek) and defensive back Genesis Grimes earned first-team All-America honors from the JC Athletic Bureau. Cole Hikutini (Pleasant Grove) earned received All-America honors at tight end for City College of San Francisco. Carrell signed with Colorado, Williams with Hawaii and Hikutini with Louisville.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.
Editor’s note: This story was changed Jan. 7 to correct that defensive lineman Reggie Rogers was hightest-drafted player from the area.