Gophers' safety Thompson continues to expand coverage

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2014 - 6:44 AM

Safety overcame hardship to be U’s defensive leader.

Cedric Thompson has occasional flashbacks to his years in Bombay Beach, Calif., the tiny desolate town along the Salton Sea, where he transformed himself into a college football player.

“There will be a story that pops into my head, and I’ll be like, ‘God, I forgot that even happened to me,’ ” said Thompson, a senior safety who led the Gophers in tackles last year.

Bombay Beach has about 300 residents, most of them retired. Back in the 1960s, it was a popular resort destination, with ads billing it as “Palm Springs by the Sea.” Now, dead fish wash up on the deserted shore, and the roads are lined with abandoned houses.

Thompson moved there with his dad after his parents divorced. For father and son, it served as a refuge from all the gang violence they’d experienced in south-central Los Angeles.

Thompson found a whole new focus — for football and school — that helped him land an unexpected scholarship to Minnesota. After coming to campus as a complete unknown in 2011, he has emerged as this team’s de facto captain, alongside quarterback Mitch Leidner.

“I thought Cedric would be a good leader, but I had no idea he was going to do the job he’s done,” coach Jerry Kill said. “With his upbringing, and how he survived things, and what he stands for, he’s got great respect.”

Finding his way

Thompson’s memories of Bombay Beach mostly include the constant boredom, the occasional 120-degree heat, earthquakes and the stench wafting off the landlocked Salton Sea. It’s a town that sits 223 feet below sea level, on the southern edge of the San Andreas Fault.

The closest high school was 27 miles away, in Calipatria, so Thompson would catch a bus each morning at 6:15 a.m.

“When I look back at what I used to go through, living in Bombay — getting up, taking a two-hour bus ride — I can’t believe I used to do that,” Thompson said. “But once I’m in a situation, I don’t think about it. I’ll do whatever it takes to get where I want to be.”

As a 6-foot, 210-pound tackling machine, Thompson’s next step could be the NFL. His other dream is to open an athletic and academic tutoring center, where inner-city youth can better prepare to become college athletes. He’s on track to graduate in May with a degree in business and marketing.

But Thompson was reeling when he first arrived in Bombay Beach, at age 15. A cousin and a close friend from his Pop Warner team had been shot and killed by gang members. When his parents first split, Thompson and his two younger siblings moved with their mother from Compton to suburban Palmdale.

As a freshman at Palmdale’s Knight High School, Thompson kept getting into fights and was nearly expelled. Searching for more structure, he moved into his father’s one-bedroom shack, a half-block from the Salton Sea.

At about 140 pounds, Thompson wasn’t much of a factor as a sophomore running back at Calipatria High School, but coach David Shaw saw potential. With nothing else to do at home, Thompson turned himself into a workout fiend.

Shaw spent seven years as Calipatria’s coach, and Thompson was his only player to come from Bombay Beach.

“It takes a dedicated kid to get up that early and ride the bus,” Shaw said. “He has an inner drive that’s unmatched. He was driven to do better in his life.”

Thompson rushed for 1,808 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. When other recruits went elsewhere right before 2011 signing day, the Gophers were desperate for alternatives. Defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel found an e-mail featuring highlights of Thompson dominating games in the desert.

That was one e-mail Sawvel was happy he didn’t delete.

  • related content

  • Gophers' Rhoda ready for whatever awaits as third-string QB

    Thursday August 21, 2014

    As a walk-on from Cretin-Derham Hall, Conor Rhoda was fourth on the Gophers’ quarterback depth chart heading into last season,...

  • Former Gophers receiver Andre McDonald leaves UW-River Falls

    Wednesday August 20, 2014

    Andre McDonald, who left the University of Minnesota after being one of the top recruits in the 2012 incoming class,...

  • Cedric Thompson worked on his foot work and reaction time during practice as he continues to better understand his safety role.


    6 p.m. next Thursday • TCF Bank Stadium • TV: BTN (107.9-FM)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Fla Southern 2 FINAL
Detroit 12
Miami 7
Toronto 114 FINAL
Philadelphia 103
Golden State 108 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
Phoenix 98 FINAL
Miami 115
LA Clippers 110 FINAL
Minnesota 105
New Orleans 93 FINAL
Dallas 102
Nashville 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Carolina 2 FINAL
Chicago 5
Montreal 0 2nd Prd 1:12
San Jose 3
Virginia 59 FINAL
Syracuse 47
Baylor 59 FINAL
Texas 61
SE Louisiana 79 FINAL
Northwestern St 92
Central Arkansas 49 FINAL
Sam Houston St 76
Norfolk State 59 FINAL
Howard 61
Bethune-Cookman 50 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 75 FINAL
Delaware State 85
Lamar 69 FINAL
McNeese State 70
Nicholls 89 FINAL
New Orleans 79
Incarnate Word 62 FINAL
Stephen F Austin 83
NC Central 62 FINAL
Savannah State 49
Texas Southern 77 FINAL
Alabama A&M 75
Prairie View 67 FINAL
Alabama State 65
Oklahoma 70 FINAL
Iowa State 77
Grambling St 62 FINAL
Miss Valley St 66
Boston College 66 FINAL
Virginia Tech 59
Jackson State 62 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 64
Bethune-Cookman 55 FINAL
NC A&T 58
Hampton 78 FINAL
Delaware State 63
Norfolk State 63 FINAL
Howard 60
NC Central 54 FINAL
Savannah State 65
Texas Southern 83 FINAL
Alabama A&M 46
Prairie View 42 FINAL
Alabama State 60
Jackson State 78 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 74
Grambling 56 FINAL
Miss Valley St 61
Tulsa 71 FINAL
Cincinnati 58
(1) Connecticut 88 FINAL
South Florida 65
East Carolina 67
Central Conn St 53 FINAL
Bryant 55
Wagner 66 FINAL
Robert Morris 60
Sacred Heart 75 FINAL
Fairleigh Dickinson 84
St Francis-NY 73 FINAL
Long Island 49
Mount St Marys 87 FINAL
St Francis-PA 90
Temple 56 FINAL
Houston 45
Texas Tech 65 FINAL
(6) Baylor 75
Iowa State 64 FINAL
Kansas 68
Memphis 53
Oklahoma 66 FINAL
Oklahoma St 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Who is the best center on a Twin Cities sports team?

Weekly Question