Kevin Thomson has his scars and battle wounds, courtesy of a violent sport that has an unyielding hold on him.
His right throwing arm bears evidence of road rash, two gnarly gashes from Sacramento State’s unrelenting field turf. And there’s the Tommy John scar to repair a ligament vital to throwing a ball.
Earlier this season, Thomson took a forearm to the facemask at Arizona State, blackening the quarterback’s eyes and bruising his nose a bit.
And yet, here is Thompson, all smiles and booming of good cheer.
The Hornets’ third-year starter field general is on top of his game, thriving under first-year coach Troy Taylor as a primary reason Sac State is 2-1 heading into Saturday’s game at Fresno State.
He is skilled, he is dazzling and he is one tough customer.
“I feel like a football player,” Thomson said with a laugh, admiring his blood like a badge of honor.
Taylor can appreciate all of it. He took his shots while delivering plenty of touchdown strikes as a four-year starter at Cal. Taylor had his jaw busted and ribs rattled plenty, a quarterback earning his stripes.
“Kevin looked like a prize fighter after the Arizona State game, like Raging Bull with the black eyes,” Taylor said with a laugh. “He’s had Tommy John, the back. I kid that he’s like an old alley cat – backed over a two or three times. Just keeps coming back.”
Thomson is a football survivor in more ways than one.
The Auburn, Washington, native wondered if his college playing days were over four years ago, before they started, undone by an arm that jolted him with nonstop searing pain from nonstop throwing.
Tommy John isn’t normally associated with the mechanics of throwing a football. That sort of surgery is generally tied to baseball. Thomson’s arm gave way during his redshirt freshman season at UNLV.
“Had surgery on Sept. 2, 2015 – my birthday,” Thomson said. “That was the day it was scheduled and it happened to fall on that day. I didn’t question it. I tried to tough it out, but the pain became unbearable. Had no idea it would be Tommy John. I contemplated not playing again.”
Thomson was finished at UNLV but not with the sport. With only small-college interest, Thomson’s out of nowhere received a call from then-Sac State assistant Paul Wulff.
“Coach Wulff said he had heard about me, and said they’d offer me a half scholarship, and that if I won the job, I’d get a full, and asked me what I thought? Sounds good to me!” Thomson said. “I’m very thankful to be here, to have a final chance. I thought I could play Division I football, but I had no college film and hadn’t played since high school. I didn’t know if anyone would take a chance on me.”
Thomson seized his opportunity. His Sac State opener in 2017 was his first game action since his high school days in 2013. Thomson went on to set the Hornets passing efficiency record at 171.80 in leading the program to a 7-4 record in 2017.
Against Southern Utah that fall, Thomson accounted for seven touchdowns, passing for three and rushing for four to set the program record for total scores in a Big Sky Conference game.
But last season hurt in multiple ways. Thomson passed for 1,380 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception in the seven games he played in, though he missed the other games with a lingering back issue. The Hornets spun out at 2-8.
The stout 6-foot-2, 200-pound Thomson has passed for 927 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, torching Southern Oregon for 303 yards and four touchdowns in a 77-19 opening victory, going for 263 and one touchdown in a 19-7 loss to ASU and heating up for 361 and five touchdowns to blast Northern Colorado 50-0.
“A great player and great leader,” Sac State receiver Pierre Williams said of Thomson.
“I don’t take good health for granted,” Thomson said. “I’ve had a lot of back rehab, took numbing shots last year, but with (strength and conditioning coach Ryan) Deatrick emphasizing mobility and stretches and exercises, I feel great. I feel mobile. It’s the best I’ve felt in college. I feel loose, doing my thing. I trust the line, and they give me time to survey. And I’ll run with the ball if I need to. I’m not shy!”
Taylor initially thought he would only have Thomson for this season. The day the two met in December, Taylor learned Thomson was granted an extra year of eligibility for the 2020 campaign.
“I thought, ‘Alright. Cool!” Taylor said. “He went from an incoming senior to an incoming junior. Once I met him, I could see how important this is to him and how much the team respects him. He’s a hard worker. You can’t be great unless you are. You can’t fake it. There’s so much preparation that goes into it.”
Taylor likes Thomson’s physical tools, decision-making and his emotional make up.
“There’s a lot going on,” Taylor said of playing the position. “Everyone assumes if you’re not winning, it’s because of the quarterback. You get second-guessed a lot. In a lot of ways, you’re the face of the program. Kevin’s been great. His confidence is growing, and that’s when you really become good, when you really start to believe in yourself.”
Thomson has a lot to beam about. He graduated in the spring with a degree in communications. He is now in Sac State’s educational technology master’s program with eyes of being a high school or college administrator.
He lives with four football teammates. He takes his master’s courses online and studies film with coaches, and he looks forward to more victories, more memories and even more battle marks.
Thomson’s parents – Connie and Jim Thomson – attend all of his games. They encouraged him to follow his football dreams even when his arm felt as if it would fall off.
“I had a great support system, my parents especially,” Thomson said. “I’m having the most fun I’ve had in football, and it’s not just winning. I like the environment here, the work ethic, what everyone is doing. I like everyone’s attitude. Everyone wants to get better. The wins are a bonus. And I know that you have to work. That’s something my parents taught me.
“If you want something, if you want to be the best at something, you’ve got to put in the time.”