Sizing up 'Squirt'
MORGANTOWN - Jordan Thompson has acquired the nickname "Squirt'' around West Virginia's football team.
It was given to him by Stedman Bailey, another of WVU's receivers, because of Thompson's diminutive size. He's just 5-foot-7 and 159 pounds, easily the smallest of the team's players. Shoot, he's two inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter even than Tavon Austin.
Bailey got the name from the movie "Finding Nemo." Squirt was a small sea turtle, whose father's name was Crush.
But perhaps Crush might be just as appropriate for Thompson. Because a lot of times that's exactly what happens to him in a game in which players routinely are twice his weight.
Take Saturday's spring-ending Gold-Blue game, for example. On the fourth series of the scrimmage, Thompson was slammed into by cornerback Avery Williams and lost the football. It was one of four turnovers by an offense that, because it gave the ball away so often, lost the spring game to the defense, 43-34.
What is surprising, though, is not that Thompson coughed up the ball that time, but that he doesn't do it more frequently.
"The big hits? Sometimes they're going to hit you. They're going to hit you hard,'' Thompson said. "All you have to do is bounce back up to make sure that they know you're not going to back down, that you're not hurt.''
Thompson had plenty of chances to do that in what amounted to his public college debut Saturday night, even if that public was limited by lousy weather - the school estimated the crowd at 10,000, about one-third of the hoped-for attendance. He caught eight passes, more than anyone else, and gained 66 yards.
On the second series of the game, playing with the No. 2 offense, Thompson had a nice diving catch for a 5-yard gain to keep the drive alive, and a few plays later had a 30-yard catch-and-run. Late in the game, he also caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Geno Smith with the No. 1 offense.
That TD pass was the way Thompson likes his catches. He was wide open and scored. But when his receptions end in traffic and/or short of the end zone, he will always try to avoid defenders rather than take them on. It's the smart play for a 5-7, 159-pounder playing college football.
"You're always trying to avoid contact,'' Thompson said. "I like contact, but definitely one of the keys is avoiding it. I've seen Tavon do that a lot.''
Indeed, Austin has mastered the art of running out of bounds when it seems he's squeezed everything possible out of a play as far as forward progress is concerned. Quite often he could get another yard or two if he accepted the hit on the sideline, but unless that yard is crucial, why endure the bodily toll?
"He does go straight out of bounds a lot,'' Thompson said. "But he gets as many yards as he can before getting hit. That's definitely the key.''
As it will be for Squirt, as well.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1