By Gray Gardner.
PINEHURST, NC – Clemson fans know him as the senior leader on the Tigers defense. Award committees know him as a member of both the Lombardi and Pony Express Award watch lists. Scouts in the National Football League know him as a potential first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And, ultimately, he’s become known around the country as one of the best defensive tackles in college football.
But what does Brandon Thompson think of himself?
“Brandon Thompson is a dominant run-stuffing defender who’s going to get back there to the quarterback and wreak havoc on the inside,” Thompson said. “That’s who Brandon Thompson is.”
He couldn’t have described himself any better. The senior racked up 7.5 tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hurries, and 1 sack in his junior season. It’s no wonder why he’s been tabbed by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as one of the best defensive tackles in the ACC for 2011.
And while Thompson admitted that that title is important to him, he knows it isn’t everything.
“I feel like that title means a lot but at the same time it means nothing. You know, it’s not about how you start – it’s about how you finish,” he said. “I want to be the best, so I practice like it and I prepare for it.”
Part of that preparation this offseason has included shedding some extra weight. Thompson, who is listed at 310 lbs. on the official roster, said he’s now closer to around 300 after summer workouts.
“I felt like throughout all my seasons that’s been my downfall because I haven’t been in shape,” he said. “You know I’ve been in shape, but not football shape. So my goal this summer has just been to get in football shape. I’ve been pushing myself, just doing a lot of stuff on my own, just a little extra stuff and getting better.”
The slimmer Thompson certainly has his work cut out for him. The advantage of playing with alongside proven defensive linemen – such as his good friend Jarvis Jenkins – is gone, and Thompson sits as the lone returning starter on the defensive front.
“(Jarvis), that’s my boy. I love him to death,” Thompson said. “I’m going to miss him, but he’s on to better things and we’re going to move on, too.”
Filling Jenkins’ vacant spot beside Thompson will be senior Rennie Moore, whom Thompson says is “an amazing pass rusher.” Moore has made quite the name for himself as being the team’s comedian. But Thompson promised that Moore knows how to get to work, and that the two have formed a great relationship on the field.
“He’s a clown, but when he gets on the field he knows it’s time to work and I know it’s time to work and we push each other,” he said. “When I’m having a down day he picks me up and when he’s having one I pick him up as well. We push each other every day.”
Thompson knows he and Moore will have to work together both on and off the field. Behind them on the depth chart will likely be three true freshmen in DeShawn Williams, Jerome Maybank, and Grady Jarrett. As a veteran, Thompson knows it’s his job to help teach the young players the ways of the game.
“Everything I know I try and pass it down to them because I know that once me and Rennie are gone it’s their team,” Thompson said. “All of us – we’re all Clemson. We never want it to fall down the wrong way. We want the level of competition to stay where it’s at. They’re going to know everything I know once I leave here.”
With this mindset, Brandon Thompson is doing much to secure the success of future Clemson teams, one young player at a time. While Thompson will likely claim his fair share of accolades and awards come December, his team’s success as a whole is what motivates him the most.
“It motivates me…I’ve always been hungry. But I guess you could say that it’s thrown me over the edge.”
This edge could be the difference maker for the Clemson defense in 2011.