When Darrell Thompson was at Rochester John Marshall in the 1980s, he was one of the most highly decorated running backs in the nation. He was being recruited hard by Nebraska and Iowa, two of the best football programs in the country then, when former Gophers coach John Gutekunst got him to sign and stay in Minnesota.
Thompson proceeded to break all of the university’s major rushing records. He finished his career with 4,654 yards on 936 attempts with 40 touchdowns and 23 games of 100 yards or more. Every one of those records still stands.
So Thompson, who was a first-round NFL draft pick by the Packers in 1990, knows a thing or two about being a sought-after prep prospect. He has seen firsthand how the recruiting process has changed, first with his daughter, Dominique, who played college volleyball at Wisconsin from 2010-14, and his son, Race, being a top national basketball recruit in the Class of 2018.
Race, who has scholarship offers from schools such as Baylor, Arizona State, Iowa State, Marquette and the Gophers, is a 6-8 forward for Armstrong and ranked as the 87th-best prospect in the country by Rivals.com.
His dad said times have definitely changed when it comes to how schools approach players.
“It’s all the extra things,” Thompson said. “I mean, there’s all the social media stuff now. I got a lot of stuff in the mail, but now with Twitter and Snapchat and all the different social media things, I think that puts more pressure on kids than they would have had during my era.
“There certainly was pressure. Everywhere I went, people were telling me where I should go to school, and that’s really not different for Race. He’s certainly feeling a little bit of pressure.”
Thompson is in the position to observe how schools try to sway his children to come to their school, and he talked about his observations of that practice.
“I have two boys, one [True] who is going to finish up at a community college next year and we’ll find a place for him, and then we have our younger boy [Race],” he said. “But what goes through their mind is just trying to find a place you want to be when you get done with [college sports], because more than football or basketball or an athletic decision, it’s a decision on where you want to be.
“And that quite honestly is the reason I [ended up] at the University of Minnesota. If I just wanted to play football, I might have ended up somewhere else, but this was certainly the right decision for me. I would do it all over again. I would do the exact same thing.”
Thompson said he doesn’t try to influence his kids’ choices, but he hopes they come to him and his wife, Stephanie, for advice.
“I think it’s important for them to make their own decision,” he said. “I don’t want somebody to come back and be upset and frustrated, but I think that I certainly will have a say, just like my wife will have a say in it. I think everything from the coaching to the playing to the school, all of that plays into your decision, and it will with our boys.”
Thompson said Race and the family did notice that Cretin-Derham Hall power forward Daniel Oturu, ranked 76th in Rivals.com’s Class of 2018, made a verbal commitment to the Gophers in January. Does he think there’s a chance Race could sign there as well?
“We don’t know, it’s still a bit early,” Thompson said. “And Daniel is a really, really good player, I’ve seen him play and my son has played against him a few times, so that is a great get for the University of Minnesota. I was excited about it.”
Several years after Thompson’s five-year NFL career ended, he began working at Bolder Options, a Minnesota nonprofit that finds mentors for troubled kids in the Twin Cities. He has run the organization since 1998.
Fleck on WMU guard
There’s no doubt the Vikings are going to continue their work on solidifying their offensive line after last season’s really tough campaign.
Last year they selected Willie Beavers in the fourth round, an offensive guard out of Western Michigan. P.J. Fleck, the former WMU coach now leading the Gophers, talked about how Taylor Moton — an offensive guard on the Vikings’ draft radar who played four years for Fleck — could have a higher ceiling than Beavers.
“Taylor is a large, large individual, about 336 pounds, about 6-5, one of the purest hearts in the world, one of the best people you will ever meet in your entire life, but one of the nastiest players on the football field,” Fleck said. “Incredibly strong, very big, but he can bend, bend, bend. And you get a guy that big that can bend the way he can, he’s incredibly strong, very, very smart and he loves the game.
“He can work really well in tight spaces but also is very athletic in his pass sets and the run game and so he’s an incredible young man. Hopefully the Vikings draft another Western Michigan Bronco. We’d love to have him in Minneapolis.”
• One of the unheralded Gophers basketball players had a big moment Thursday on senior night at Williams Arena as former walk-on turned scholarship guard Darin Haugh shared the spotlight with guard Akeem Springs. Haugh, a Prior Lake native, came to the U via Wisconsin-Platteville and Bethany Lutheran and has appeared in 10 games over two seasons with the Gophers.
• The Timberwolves’ 107-80 victory at Utah on Wednesday might have been their most impressive win of the season. The Jazz, which sports the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, got beat in every way imaginable. ... Center Karl-Anthony Towns posted his fifth consecutive game with at least 20 points and 15 rebounds, which ties him with Pelicans star Anthony Davis for the longest such streak in the NBA this season.
• The Wall Street Journal ran this interesting note: In the past seven seasons, the Big Ten has had 21 basketball teams seeded anywhere from 1-4 in the NCAA tournament, but current projections don’t have a single Big Ten squad in that range for the 2017 tournament.
Sid Hartman can be heard Mondays and Fridays on 830-AM at 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org