The barbs flew, old friends unleashing verbal haymakers.
Who’s better looking? Who’s stronger? Who has the more athletic brothers?
Finally, the knockout blow: Between workouts at a local gym on Christmas Eve, Arik Armstead ribbed Shaq Thompson that had he chosen the Oregon Ducks as his college destination, things would have been decidedly different.
“Yeah, Shaq,” crowed Armstead, the Ducks’ defensive end from Pleasant Grove High School. “You would’ve been in the Rose Bowl.”
Thompson, the Washington All-America linebacker from Grant, then bear-hugged Armstead in conceding the duel. Both are feeling triumphant with more college snaps looming, followed by, perhaps, the NFL.
Armstead will start for Oregon in Thursday’s Rose Bowl against Florida State, college football’s first playoff game. A day later, Thompson leads the Huskies against Oklahoma State in the less celebrated Cactus Bowl in Tempe, Az.
For years, these two athletes have had a spirited rivalry, like siblings. Armstead and Thompson never played against each other in high school, but they became fast friends and follow each other’s career closely. As prep All-Americans, they talked regularly in 2011 about the college recruiting process, the grind, and how grand it might have been to be teammates.
Carrying the burden of great expectations, Armstead and Thompson have enjoyed their best college seasons as juniors, earning honors and drawing the interest of NFL scouts. Though neither is ready to make an official announcement, it’s clear that Armstead and Thompson will soon declare for the NFL draft.
Both will confer with family in the coming days and formally decide, with Jan. 15 the deadline to file notice with the NFL of draft intent. Both have been projected as first-round draft possibilities by various draft-projection websites with Thompson projected to go as high as seventh overall. At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Thompson led the country with four defensive touchdowns in 2014, highlighted by a 99-yard return of a fumble at Cal. On offense he rushed for 456 yards for the Huskies, including 174 against Colorado, during fill-in duty. Thompson, a first-time All-Pacific-12 Conference selection, won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.
At 6-8 and 295 pounds, Armstead had 33 tackles this season and was deemed “an athletic freak with incredible potential” by an NFL scout in a recent draft projection.
Should they become first-round picks in the same draft, it would be the first area double haul since the famed 1983 NFL draft when Tony Eason of Delta High and Illinois and Ken O’Brien of Jesuit and UC Davis were selected in the first round along with eventual Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
“I’m going to sit with my brother (Syd’Quan Thompson), my mom (Patty), my uncle (B.T. Thompson) and with (Huskies coach Chris) Petersen and talk it out, the pros and cons of going pro,” Thompson said. “It is exciting. It’d be a dream come true. College went by so fast.”
Armstead is also backed by a sports family. His father, Guss, has trained scores of high school, college and professional athletes in Sacramento. Armstead’s mentor is his older brother, Armond, a prep All-American at Pleasant Grove who started at defensive tackle at USC, played in the Canadian Football League and was with the New England Patriots in 2013 before retiring last summer for health reasons.
“My family is everything to me,” Armstead said. “They were there the day I was born. They’ll be there the day I go out. They’ve supported me, helped me on the field and off, and I owe them so much. We’ll figure out what to do with the draft after this season.”
Syd’Quan Thompson started four years at cornerback at Cal and played one season in the NFL before injuries drove him out. His advice on the NFL is simple, “just enjoy college and the rest of it will be there,” he tells kid brother.
And back to the barbs. Armstead insists amid smiles that he could take his brother to task in shoulder pads. Thompson on his brother, “Syd’s quicker, but I’m better.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.