Peyton Thompson’s apartment in Jacksonville is adorned with cards taped to the walls, each detailing formations and calls for all of the defensive back positions for the Jaguars – right cornerback, left cornerback, free and strong safety.
A graduate of Granite Bay High School, Thompson is a student of the game, soaking in tendencies of blocking and tackling from his father, BT Thompson, since about the time he could run. Thompson understands the value of preparation. Coupled with his cockroach drive to never concede an inch, it has made him an invaluable backup to play any secondary spot, in addition to screaming downfield to down a punt or tackle a returner.
A starter on special teams, Thompson has been an ideal fit for the Jaguars as an underdog who has made it. He has found a home in Jacksonville for the past three years as a feel-good story for the NFL’s feel-good team this season.
Thompson and the Jaguars seek more history on Sunday. An upset of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., will land Jacksonville in the last place anyone dared project months ago: the Super Bowl. BT will be on hand Sunday, as he has been for so much of his son’s life.
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“I won’t be nervous because I’m not playing the game,” BT said this week with a laugh. BT lives in Sacramento and is immersed in football around the clock as he manages Thompson College Scouting to help regional high school recruits find a scholarship.
“When I go to see Peyton,” BT continued, “he apologizes that he doesn’t have more time to just hang out. But I understand, and I see how hard he works. The NFL, it means everything to him. He’s been through it all – the stress of getting cut, of trying to make a roster. To endure the mental side of all of this, to be rejected time after time, always being on pins and needles, I just feel so good for him now.”
Going undrafted and cut six times since 2012 will harden a football man. Egos get bruised, and his stung. But winning and job security cures a lot of ills.
“It feels so good to win, and when you work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else and you still only take home a few wins, it’s hard,” Peyton Thompson said by phone on Friday. “Absolutely it was frustrating. There were years where I felt like things just weren’t going my way. What we do is on a national stage. Take Sacramento. In general, anyone who follows the area knows when you get cut, or do something great. There’s a lot of humility that comes with the growth in this game. You’ve got to learn to have humility and to bounce back.”
Thompson, 27, could also be speaking for his franchise. This is Jacksonville’s first playoff team since 2007.
Said Thompson earlier this season, “I’ve been here for three years and worked myself to the point of exhaustion and thrown up and we’ve still won only three games. As you get run through the dirt during camp, you’re not saying, ‘This is going to make me so much better than I’ve been in the past.’ It’s your job to trust the plan if somebody lays out an outline.”
Thompson comes from a family of football.
His father, a military brat, played in the secondary at Oklahoma State and Abilene Christian. Thompson’s cousin, Shaq Thompson, played at Grant High School and Washington, and the linebacker has had a good start to his NFL career since going in the first round to Carolina in 2015.
Thompson preceded his cousin but didn’t have near the accolades. He was lightly recruited in 2008 coming out of Granite Bay, where he excelled as a flyback. There are no pressing needs for 160-pound runners in college. Thompson landed at San Jose State, where he played cornerback and made 186 tackles and had seven interceptions.
When he got run over by Andrew Luck of Stanford after intercepting the All-American in 2009, that was the wake-up call to add weight. Thompson got up to 180 pounds by his senior season. It put him on the NFL radar. He is among Granite Bay’s NFL alumni: Miles Burris, Adam Jennings, Dallas Sartz, Sammie Stroughter and Devon Wylie.
The whirlwind odyssey kept Thompson on edge:
▪ Cut by Atlanta after the 2012 preseason and re-signed to the practice squad for the season;
▪ Cut by Atlanta after the 2013 preseason and signed to Washington’s practice squad in November;
▪ Cut by Washington after the 2014 preseason, signed by Chicago and released six days later.
Thompson signed with Jacksonville in 2014 but was released, signed, and released again after the 2015 preseason. He then signed with the Jaguars’ practice squad and was promoted to the everyday roster on Sept. 15, 2015. He has played in 47 of 48 games since.
It’s no wonder he uses index cards for wallpaper. Thompson takes nothing for granted.
“It’s a job, and you want to perfect your craft and climb the ladder, whether it’s the sports world or the corporate world,” Thompson said. “You’ve got to put the work in, be productive, control what you can control.
“I’ve played every DB position. One game last year, we ran out of guys on ‘D’ and I was in on a dime package as a 185-pound linebacker. They’ve asked me to do a lot of things here, and I always put my hand up first. It’s one thing not to be successful and it’s another not to be prepared. I’m prepared. I wasn’t even supposed to make it.”