January 26, 2012
Shaq Thompson's final recruiting days come down to home visits tonight, tomorrow with Cal, Washington, Oregon

Here's the deal with Shaq Thompson of Grant High School, everyone's No. 1 safety prospect in the land: he's stressed out of his mind about this recruiting chaos to the point of exhaustion and migrane headaches. Normally booming of good cheer, Thompson has "been in a fog lately," his mother Patty said. "We all want to get this over with. It's really changed Shaq."

Thompson was all set to go to Cal, was excited to join other incoming freshmen to help boost the Bears' fortunes in Berkeley. He told me about this leading up to his announcement during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and after.

The wrench in the Cal feel-good story for Old Blues was hurled by Tosh Lupoi, the former Cal coach who recruited Thompson for well over a year and is now hot on his heels as the recently hired Washington assistant coach. Thompson is torn. First it was all Cal. Now Washington is in the mix. And so is Oregon. And so, suddenly, is UCLA.

He's back on the open market, twisting with each text, each call, each home visit, each thought of where best to go.

Lupoi is the coach whom Thompson had grown to immediately like - like scores of other recruits and players - when Lupoi was an assistant at Cal, even though Lupoi coaches defensive linemen and Thompson works in the secondary. Doesn't matter. Prep players form a bond with those who recruit them, and when a coach moves, recruiting becomes all the more complex.

On Jan. 15, Cal coach Jeff Tedford and Lupoi made a home visit with Pleasant Grove All-American lineman Arik Armstead in their Elk Grove home, some 35 minutes away from the Thompson home.

Using different cars, Tedford headed back to the Bay Area, finished with his Sacramento-area recruiting tour for the evening. Lupoi headed to the Thompson home in North Sacramento any way.

In his visit with Thompson, in Cal colors, Lupoi spoke of how he could become the Washington Huskies assistant within a day, and by dawn the next morning, Lupoi was off to Washington.

Why the continuous talk on Thompson? He's on the shortest list of all-time prep greats I have ever seen with his ferocity and fury, his open-field speed, his closing speed in hammering ball carriers, his desire to lead, to learn, to improve and his message of being a campus and community role model. Other all-time greats I have seen include: Tedy Bruschi of Roseville, who went on to win three Super Bowls with the Patriots; Onterrio Smith and Dante Stallworth of Grant, who both landed in the NFL; D.J Williams of De La Salle, a linebacking terror at all levels; and Lance Briggs of Elk Grove, headed to his 7th NFL Pro Bowl at linebacker with the Chicago Bears.

What's more, Thompson is as humble as he is football dominant, so any notion that he isn't loyal or that he's playing the field for kicks is way off base. The Lupoi factor has altered everything, that simple. It's a slice of what makes recruiting so cut throat and competitive. College coaches understandably seethe when an assistant moves on and tries to immediately get recruits to flip on their verbals.

Thompson also has a hard time saying no to any one. He can't get off the field after a game because so many people want to talk to him, get a photo with him, get an autograph. He and the janitor are the last two on the grounds. This is why Thompson still has four schools still in the running in Cal, Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

He even told UCLA he would take a recruiting trip to Los Angeles after National Letter of Intent Day. That's exceptionally rare, and risky for a 5-star recruit. College programs only have so many scholarships to offer and coaches want those slots filled on signing day. They want those letters faxed immediately if not sooner on Feb. 1. Yes, Feb. 1 is the first day students can announce their decision, and it's not the only day they can do so. But let's face it. Scholarships dry up exceptionally fast in the first hour on the first day.

The sense here is Tedford has a golden chance to smooth things over today - Thursday - with a Thompson home visit. Tedford has for years had a great rapport with the Thompson family, dating back to when Thompson's older brother Syd was a four-year starter at cornerback for Cal, became a captain and flourished in school.

Tonight - Thursday - is also when Lupoi and the Washington staff descends on the Thompson home. And no chance Tedford, Lupoi and those conflicting school colors meet for a cozy, cheerful chat on the front porch. No doubt there's some ill will brewing, and understandable given the turn of events. Patty Thompson, Shaq's mom, said she'll make sure the coaches do not bump into each other.

On Friday, Chip Kelly and Oregon come for a Thompson home visit.

I'm betting that by Friday night, Thompson will know where he wants to go, and the UCLA trip next week will be off, though he he's found it difficult to say no to UCLA coaches Jim Mora and Angus McClure. UCLA has already secured verbals from Sacramento-area stars Marcus Rios of Cosumnes Oaks, a defensive back, and Sheldon tight end Nate Iese, and those athletes are texting Thompson regularly to woo him. If Thompson still isn't sure about where to go after meeting with Tedford, Lupoi and Kelly, then UCLA might not just be in the game, but the Bruins could be the leader of the race.

In other words, stay tuned.

More coverage: Photo gallery of Shaq Thompson in action

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About the Prep blog

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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