The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 7, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Tragedy and redemption for Charles Thompson

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University wide receiver Jordan Thompson is from Texas, but he has never been rooting for Texas.

In fact, he grew up an Oklahoma fan for a reason, a most intriguing reason that we will get to shortly and that is worth staying with us to learn about.

But first, what is it like being an Oklahoma fan in Texas, that game being everything West Virginia and Pitt are in the Backyard Brawl with a bigger national reputation?

“Growing up there, me being a Sooner fan, my friends were all Longhorn fans,” Thompson said. “That game was for bragging rights for the year.”

And you need bragging rights if you are for Oklahoma.

“Everything you see in Texas is burnt orange … burnt orange. Last year was a great experience for me, traveling to Austin and beating the Texas Longhorns, at home in front of 108,000 people. That was the best feeling.”

It was a feeling he was not alone feeling in his family, which brings us to what made him an Oklahoma fan and which gives us a good bit of insight into the kind of strong and caring person he is.

Jordan Thompson has an uncle who was a pretty good football player. He went to Oklahoma, started at quarterback as a freshman on a pretty good Oklahoma football team.

The year was 1987.

The coach was Barry Switzer.

The quarterback was Charles Thompson.

You may not remember him now, for he had a quick and tragic downfall from heights that were unimaginable and also unmanageable in the situation as Oklahoma was then under Switzer.

Charles Thompson had come out of Lawton, Okla., a talented enough athlete to be drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 34th round in the baseball draft but who was destined for football … a path Jordan Thompson also followed.

Charles Thompson was not a big man either but he was a nifty quarterback in Switzer’s Wishbone, shifty enough to start as a redshirt freshman, good enough to lead No. 2 Oklahoma to a dominating victory over No. 1 Nebraska in a game touted as Game of the Century II, earning Thompson a spot on Sports Illustrated’s cover.

He would return to the cover in a picture offered up as further proof of SI’s jinx, wearing not a football uniform but a prison jump suit.

This, you see, is a story of downfall and redemption.

Thompson led Oklahoma to an 11-1 record, losing only the 1988 Orange Bowl. He became a star, a celebrity, volunteering to speak to at-risk youths about facing adversity and the dangers of illegal drugs.

He was, however, too young, and it became a case of do as I say, not as I do, for on Jan. 26, 1989, he was videotaped by the FBI selling 17 grams of cocaine for $1,400 to an undercover agent. Two weeks later he appeared again on the SI cover and the world fell in on him and on Switzer.

Pressured from without for running an out-of-control program, this was the last straw, and he resigned as coach after 16 years as one of college football’s most successful coaches ever.

Thompson pled guilty and was sent to federal prison where he became a spokesperson for the dangers and pressures that major college football players can face, did an ESPN interview and in 1990 wrote a book “Down and Dirty: The Life and Crimes of Oklahoma Football.”

Released from prison early, after just 17 months of what could have been a 27-month max, he transferred to Central State in Ohio and the NAIA Division I university as a running back.

Thompson skipped his senior year to enter the NFL draft but went undrafted, bounced around with various non-NFL teams for a while but eventually found his calling as a motivational speaker, his life completely turned around.

Charles Thompson today lives in Oklahoma City with a wife and three children, one of them Kendall, a sophomore quarterback at Oklahoma who might have won the starting quarterback job this year but for a broken foot.

And who knows, within a year or two, it could wind up Kendall Thompson going against Jordan Thompson, a one-time Sooner fan, face-to-face in an important Big 12 game … a matchup with a lot of interesting history and redemption involved in it.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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