Syd Quan Thompson will be back on familiar turf today.
He’ll settle into the Memorial Stadium seats in Berkeley, just as the late-afternoon sun cascades down on scores of family members and fellow Grant High School graduates. Thompson will bear Cal colors, loyal to the school he started a record 52 games for at cornerback, but his eyes and heart will be firmly set on the opposing team.
The Washington Huskies are in Berkeley today, in what should be a typical Pacific-12 Conference shootout. Washington is led on defense by Shaq Thompson, Syd’s kid brother.
Shaq Thompson is the last in a line of athletically gifted brothers, the most talented and physically imposing, so say the siblings. Shaq is a 6-foot-2, 228-pound junior outside linebacker who is tied for the Huskies’ team lead with four touchdowns, three on defense and one at tailback. He is tied for the national lead with four forced fumbles.
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“I sit and watch Shaq play, and I’m just amazed,” Syd said. “He’s so versatile, so tough and quick. He can cover guys on defense and he can make tackles. He makes plays. I mean, he’s gifted, really, really gifted.”
While at Cal, Syd once brought Shaq by the football offices for a visit. He introduced 12-year-old Shaq to Bob Gregory, then the Cal defensive coordinator and now the linebackers coach for Washington.
“(Syd) looked at me and said, ‘Coach, this is the real deal here,’” Gregory told The Seattle Times. “And he was right.”
And Cal seemed the right place for Shaq, too.
The Bee’s Player of the Year in 2011, Shaq gave the Bears a verbal commitment in January 2012 but ultimately signed with Washington. The Bears also lost out on standout defensive lineman Arik Armstead of Pleasant Grove. Armstead decommitted from USC and leaned toward Cal, before signing with Oregon.
Both players are happy with their selections, playing for 4-1 teams this season. Cal is also happy at 4-1 following two tumultuous years in which coach Jeff Tedford lost his job after the 2012 season and Sonny Dykes won just once in 2013.
“It’s all worked out,” Shaq said.
Shaq made a difference in his first game in Berkeley in 2012. As a freshman, he registered seven tackles, two for losses, and his fourth-quarter interception sealed a 21-13 Huskies victory.
Cal fans lustily booed him, a former recruit inflicting harm on their field. Will Bear backers give him similar treatment on Saturday?
“I don’t know,” Shaq told the Times last week, “and I really don’t care.”
What’s important, Syd advises his brother, is to enjoy all of this. The game is fleeting, and it can end in a flash. Syd lasted one NFL season with the Denver Broncos before snapping his Achilles’ tendon near the end of training camp his second year. Those dashed NFL dreams motivate Shaq now, who said, “It makes me appreciate (my good health). It really motivates me. I know he’s been there, and I know I have to try to get there. All my brothers, they’re all texting me, motivating me.”
Syd added: “I had such a great experience at Cal and with Denver. I know Shaq is having a great time at Washington. We talk about it. We’re really tight. I can feel it from him how much fun he’s having.”
Shaq still looks up to Syd, even though he now towers over him and says he gets his demeanor and humility from his older brother. And neither viewed themselves as a star, just contributors to the cause. They’re both quiet, preferring to let their game speak otherwise.
Without a father at home, Shaq looked to his siblings as mentors, and especially his mother, Patty, whom he calls “my everything.”
“My older brothers were my role models, my father figures,” Shaq said. “My mom is always there. She taught me respect and manners.”
The next family reunion could be in Sacramento after the season, when Shaq – a projected first-round pick – will ponder his NFL future. His mother wants him to finish at Washington. Older brother Syd said, “There’s no hurry. Enjoy it all now while you can. The NFL will always be there.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.