January 31, 2012
Grant's Shaq Thompson explains decision to pick Washington; Lupoi not the deciding factor

Shaq Thompson bounded across his Grant High School campus Tuesday morning with a Washington Huskies sweat top and beanie, his smile the only thing more radiant than the purple colors.

The All-American safety said that he initially planned to make his college choice on National Letter of Intent Day on Wednesday, like scores of athletes across the country. But he concluded that Washington fit him the best while sitting at home with his mother Patty late Monday night. So he made his announcement via text and Twitter and had discovered he didn't toss an turn over night for the first time in a good while.

"I'm really happy and relieved, and now I can get a good night's sleep, rest and relax, because it's been hard," Thompson said outside a Grant computer class.

Thompson reminded that though he had given a verbal to Cal in early January, Washington remained a close favorite. He added that the Tosh Lupoi factor was a factor, yes, but not the over-the-top factor, though he'll never convince Cal fans otherwise.

Lupoi had recruited Thompson to go to Cal for two years when Lupoi was the Bears defensive line coach and primary recruiter. They formed a bond. Lupoi met with Thompson late on Jan. 15, and then left the next morning to become the Washington defensive line coach and a lead recruiter, of which he is known as one of the nation's best. It was then that Thompson re-opened his recruiting, saying it was back to "50-50" with Cal and Washington, with Oregon closing the gap and eventually passing Cal in the final days of the three-team scramble.

But the interesting twist is that once Lupoi became employed by Washington, Thompson said he did not remain a lead recruiter on his heels. Head coach Steve Sarkisian did, including a home visit to see Thompson late last week. Sarkisian also took the lead when Thompson made an unofficial visit to Washington over the weekend. What's more, Thompson's close friend is James Sample, a Huskies defensive back.

"Tosh is great but he wasn't that big of a deal in me going to Washington," Thompson said. "Sarkisian took over. I liked Coach Sark from the beginning, when I took a trip there (in the fall)."

Thompson said his brother, Syd, did not try to influence him to go to Cal, where he had excelled as a four-year starting cornerback (and is now with the Denver Broncos). But Thompson is no fool. He knows his brother preferred Cal, as did their mother, Patty, who has always spoken highly of Bears coach Jeff Tedford and the academic setting in Berkeley.

Syd Thompson even went so far as to purchase Thompson's airline flight to Seattle for the unofficial weekend visit. What's more, Thompson said going to Washington allows him to have his own identity on the football field. He's not Syd Thompson's kid brother at Cal, he's now Shaq Thompson of Washington.

"In my heart," Thompson said of a brother that is close to him, "I'm still his little brother."

Three Grant teachers Tuesday said that every time they talked to Thompson about recruiting, the football star would bring up academics. The teachers said they were impressed that Thompson wasn't solely influenced just by football and facilities.
Carl Reed, an assistant football coach who also teaches accounting and computers, often gives Thompson a ride home. They talk about everything, and sometimes blocking, tackling and touchdowns never come up.

"Shaq would talk about how Washington has 14 tutors for the football team and how much he's looking forward to going to taking classes there," Reed said. "He's not just a football guy. I'm happy for him. He knew he had to make a choice for him, not anyone else, but it was becoming a circus."

Thompson said he wants to study sports medicine. He said the most difficult part of recruiting was the stress of picking which school. He lost sleep. He felt like he was in a fog. The fog has cleared.

For news and updates, follow on Twitter: sb_joedavidson

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Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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