Brian Thompson was the logical choice to step in when an injury sidelined one of William and Mary's most dynamic defenders. The only person that had to be convinced was Jimmye Laycock.
Not that the Tribe's head coach didn't think that Thompson was a quality player, a productive player. But it was a position switch for Thompson, from strong safety to outside linebacker.
And there was something else.
"He came in as a good player, but was so, so, so quiet about the way he did things," said Laycock, who emphasized each 'so.' "So unassuming, so quiet. It was like he didn't want to make a splash."
Laycock, and most coaches, appreciate players who simply do their jobs with minimal drama and jabbering. Still, a defensive back who doesn't yap and talk trash at least a little is like a lion going vegan or a politician refusing corporate contributions.
"I'm not the most talkative person," Thompson said with a smile. "I'm more of a lead-by-example kind of player. I'm not afraid to speak. I speak when I need to. But I was naturally quiet growing up."
Thompson is plenty outgoing on the field. Making his first start at outside linebacker last Saturday in place of the injured Dante Cook, he recorded a team-high eight tackles, including a sack, in the Tribe's 20-16 win at Villanova.
The redshirt junior played the position nearly the entire game the previous week against James Madison, after Cook was injured on the game's first series. Learning on the fly, he posted six tackles versus JMU.
That performance, as well as the development of Jerome Couplin III at safety, led the coaches to think that Thompson was the best option in Cook's absence.
"I said, 'Are you sure he knows what he's doing?' " Laycock said. "The coaches reassured me: 'He knows what he's doing.' I said OK. From what I've seen, he's played very, very well."
In the Tribe's scheme, outside linebacker and strong safety are fairly similar. Safety has more pass coverage responsibilities and drops, which takes a player farther away from the line of scrimmage.
"He's kind of out of the mix," Laycock said of Thompson at safety, "and he's a guy you like to have in the mix."
Thompson, 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds, operates best on the perimeter, when he doesn't have to take on offensive linemen and can use his quickness and athletic ability. Though he does enjoy the regular contact that comes at linebacker.
"I can't say I like one over the other," Thompson said of the two positions. "I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Thompson was, quietly, the Tribe's No. 3 tackler last year as a redshirt sophomore, with 80 total stops. He is the third-leading tackler thus far with 29 stops, 21 unassisted, behind fellow linebackers Jabrel Mines (55) and Jake Trantin (41).
Thompson's fellow linebackers have aided him greatly. He felt much more comfortable last Saturday than the week prior, and doesn't concern himself with trying to imitate Cook.
"I'm just going to be the best player I can be," Thompson said. "Dante's a great player. He's helped me out a lot, even when he's not out there, with reads and knowing what to look for."
Thompson was a two-way all-conference player from Somerset, N.J., who also had scholarship offers from Maine, Monmouth (N.J.) and Bryant (R.I.). He knew a bit about Williamsburg from family vacations, and was sold on W&M when he learned more about the program and the academic reputation.
He considers himself blessed to be able to play college football and to receive an education, and he intends to give back once he is finished playing. A sociology major, he works with kids at a nearby church and intends to go into counseling.
"I want to reach people's lives and help them," he said.
Until then, there are championships and team goals to attain — quietly or vocally.
"He's not the same type of player as Dante," Laycock said, "but he's a playmaker. He's not just holding his position. He's a force out there. He's a force."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun