By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Every football locker that has ever housed a youth football team has been decorated with a sign that read: “What matters is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”
The message seemed to be clear enough, unless you read the fine print.
“One exception ... chihuahuas.”
See, no matter how you put it, when you are so small that upon arriving at West Virginia University to play football wide receiver Stedman Bailey takes one look and drops the nickname “Squirt” on you, maybe you ought to try baseball.
The problem is Jordan Thompson, WVU’s heir apparent to Tavon Austin as college football’s most dangerous little man, already has tried that.
It was fine until he was about 9 years old growing up — well, maybe maturing is a better word — in football-mad Texas.
There was a problem when he decided he wanted to go out for the youth football team.
“My dad had to talk to Mom (about my desire to play). I was actually originally a baseball player. The first year you could play tackle my dad said, ‘OK, you need to play football.’ My mom was very cautious about it. She didn’t want me to play, and my dad had to talk to her,” he recalled.
Reluctantly she agreed.
There is no record of how big Jordan Thompson was when he first went out for football, but there is a record of what he weighed when he first walked on to the WVU campus last spring as an early enrollee.
“I was 144 pounds when I got here,” he revealed, but added proudly, “I’ve put 20 pounds on since I came to Morgantown.”
That has him at approximately 165 pounds for his freshman year, give or take a Big Mac or two, not exactly tight end stuff.
No wonder the “Squirt” nickname stuck, even to the point that coach Dana Holgorsen is using it.
The giveaway of what Holgorsen thinks of a 5-foot, 9-inch, 165-pound receiver isn’t really in what he calls him, but what he says about him.
When asked if any of the true freshmen had stepped up to the point that Holgorsen figured he’d be playing them this year, he said no … “Except for Squirt. That guy is something. He’ll play obviously as a true freshman.”
His quickness is obviously exceptional, enough so that he reminds people of Austin, WVU’s miniature Heisman Trophy candidate, a kid with a background much like Thompson’s.
Austin was a wonderful high school player, putting numbers on the board in Maryland when at Dunbar High in Baltimore that no one in history had ever put together. He was a prep legend, a YouTube sensation, but he heard all the talk about not being big enough to make it in big-time college football.
They should not have worried, for Austin had learned a lesson early on, a lesson that told him the sideline was his best friend. That would allow the little man to play big-time football.
“I’ve always had that my whole life, even when I played Pop Warner,” he said of the comments that come to little men, the questions of whether or not they can survive big hits. “My cousin Shaun always told me if you don’t think you can get away, run out of bounds.”
And that was what he did. Every time an opponent was ready to unload on him, he escaped to the safety of the sideline, leaving them totally frustrated.
“Opponents would get frustrated and say a lot of crazy things. I can’t repeat what they say right now, but I laughed at them. I lived to play the next play,” he said.
A year ago it allowed him to catch 101 passes for more than 1,000 yards and highlight a 70-33 victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl with four TDs.
Of course, in a sport like football where one’s manhood is questioned on every play, there are those who consider Austin as soft.
He doesn’t mind.
“A lot of people always told me I was soft. At the end of the day, I know I’m not a soft player. This is how I played since Pop Warner football. I listened to Shaun, and I’m still fresh.”
As he was perfecting that move, he won over a young fan in Texas.
“My sophomore year I saw what Tavon was doing. Then last year he kind of just exploded. I watched every Mountaineer game that was on TV with my family and I was thinking, ‘He’s small. He has the same body type as me.’ I knew I could do something big in college football,” he said.
“Some people doubted me; they said I couldn’t play Division I football. In my head I was thinking, ‘Tavon is doing it. He’s out there playing Division I, and he’s just my size.’ That gave me the idea I could prove these guys wrong,” Thompson said.
You can only imagine the feeling he had when he came on campus and was welcomed by a committee that included quarterback Geno Smith, wide receiver Bailey and, yes, Austin.
It didn’t take long for Austin to adopt him. He knew what Thompson would be facing, especially as the defenders tried to level big hits on him.
“Tavon is talking to me about it. I don’t need to take that many shots on the field because it’s going to take a toll on your body. I haven’t mastered it like he has ... but I’m getting there,” Thompson said.
In the end, you have to learn on your own.
“Just (Monday) I got hit twice pretty good by (linebacker) Jared Barber and (safety) Darwin Cook,” Thompson said. “My helmet actually popped off (with the Cook hit), but it’s all right. You just have to bounce back up,” he said.
It’s a lesson Austin also learned.
“The hardest hit I took came in my freshman year, in practice. Sidney Glover hit me. That was the first time I ever saw stars, to tell you the truth. I knew that was my ‘welcome-to-college hit,’ and I won’t get hit harder than that,” Austin recalled.
The important thing is to bounce back up, Austin said.
“It’s just a mentality. You have to have the mentality that you’re going to survive. You know there are going to be a lot of people who are stronger and bigger than you. You have to have the mentality of playing bigger than you are. You know you’re going to get hit, but you just have to bounce back up,” he told Thompson.
Now it will be bigger, stronger, faster guys taking shots at Thompson, but you suspect he will be trying to “squirt” out of bounds before they get there.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.