KNOXVILLE - LaMarcus Thompson is a nerd. A "cool nerd," but a nerd.
Don't believe that? Just ask him.
Thompson, a fifth-year senior and second-year starter on the University of Tennessee football team, has 80 career tackles from his strongside linebacker position.
And, oh yeah, he's a nerd.
He's already completed his undergraduate degree in political science. He loves remote control cars and drawing pictures, and he really likes Japanimation.
Thompson, like most of his upperclassman teammates, has experienced a stunningly wide range of emotions during his time in Knoxville. He shared many of those with me this week during his time on "Wednesdays with Wes."
Most players give me at least 15 minutes for these interviews, but Thompson gave me 30. The conversation started on the practice field and ended at the indoor complex after it started raining.
Q: Let's get right to it. You guys have been blown out the past two weeks. Is the focus of this team where it needs to be?
THOMPSON: "We're going to have to focus. It's not an option. It's one of those things where we have to make it a priority to get back to where we need to be, as far as performing for 60 minutes - not 30 minutes, not one quarter, not three quarters. We need to perform well for a full 60 minutes to put forth our best output."
Q: It seems like you've been here for 37 years. I forgot which other schools recruited you. Where would you have gone if not UT?
THOMPSON: "It probably would have been Arkansas or Georgia Tech ... or Kentucky."
Q: Georgia Tech, huh? I'm going to put two and two together here. You're already in graduate school, and you almost went to Georgia Tech. You're not the dumbest guy on the team, are you?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Naw, man. Not the dumbest. You know that."
Q: I don't know what I know on this beat these days. This place is crazy. Anyway, what was your undergraduate major?
THOMPSON: "Political science."
Q: Do you want to be president or something?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Naw, man."
Q: What classes are you taking now that you already have your undergrad degree?
THOMPSON: "I'm keeping my GPA high, just in case I want to come back for grad school. I'm not taking the hardest classes right now. I'm taking a lot of P.E. classes."
Q: Sounds challenging.
THOMPSON: "I have my degree, man. I earned this."
Q: Matt Leinart took a ballroom dancing course his senior year at Southern Cal. What's the easiest class you've ever taken at UT?
Q: Are you serious? You took a walking class?
THOMPSON: "Yep. Walking."
Q: Please tell me you got an 'A.'
THOMPSON: "Naw, man. I got an A-plus."
Q: Congratulations. You should get a medal.
THOMPSON: "I got a 100."
Q: What would your coaches have said if you'd sprained a knee in walking class?
THOMPSON: "That would (stink). I'd probably get yelled at."
Q: What if you'd sprained a knee on the football field and couldn't walk for walking class? You'd have to get an 'F,' right?
THOMPSON: "I guess I'd give her a doctor's note."
Q: Did you take a written test in this walking class? I'm imagining a fill-in-the-blank question that starts with, 'After picking up your foot, you put it ________.'
THOMPSON: "Actually, it's a skills test. You basically have to walk at a brisk pace for a certain amount of time."
Q: That's ridiculous.
THOMPSON: "Yep. But I got the 'A.'"
Q: You're obviously a highly-skilled walker. You should play in the NBA.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Naw, man. I'm a football guy."
Q: Were any teammates in this walking class?
THOMPSON: "(Former defensive back and linebacker) Nevin McKenzie."
Q: Did he get an 'A,' too?
Q: Does anyone ever get anything other than an 'A' in that class?
THOMPSON: "I hope not. That would be pretty bad. I've never heard of anyone."
Q: Anyway, back to the first topic - you're old. When you first signed with the Vols, what were your career expectations for the team?
THOMPSON: "Not like this."
Q: Yeah, no one says, "I'm taking my talents to the University of Tennessee, and we'll start my senior year 2 and 5."
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Yeah, my first two years, we had pretty good records. We won nine games and then 10 games, I think, and I was like, 'Yeah, we're going to keep on rolling.'"
THOMPSON: "Yeah. Then we had the year where everything just fell apart (2008). Then we started building back up and getting momentum with (Lane) Kiffin, but then we just kind of broke apart again. And now we're rebuilding again. It's definitely been a roller coaster ride, something I definitely wasn't expecting. I don't think anybody comes to Tennessee expecting anything like this, but it happens, I guess. But this is still a great place. We won't be down like this for long."
Q: Since you just took a turn to Poutville, let's keep going with this. What's been the toughest moment of your career here?
THOMPSON: "Oh, I can definitely tell you the worst moment."
Q: Good, because that's what I just asked.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Yeah, the toughest moment was definitely this year. Coach Fulmer leaving was pretty tough - really tough, actually. And Kiffin leaving, that was different, but it was kind of tough, too. But my toughest moment was probably that loss to LSU."
Q: What did you do for that minute or so when you guys thought the game was over, and that you'd won?
THOMPSON: "I was running down the field with the big 'T' flag."
Q: Oh, wow. Tell me that's not true.
THOMPSON: "No, it's true. I've got the flag, and I'm waving it in the air and going crazy. Next thing I knew, they're talking about (referees) blowing whistles and calling us back. Then they told us there was a penalty, and there would be another play. Then, obviously, they scored that touchdown. We went from the ultimate high to the ultimate low just like that."
Q: Again, you had the flag? Really?
THOMPSON: "Yep. In my hand. I was waving it."
Q: That sounds like the lyrics to an old country music song. That's awful.
THOMPSON: "Yep. I'll never forget it. What a terrible
Q: LSU was a good team, just like Georgia and Alabama. Why was the LSU game so close, and the Alabama and Georgia games so lopsided?
THOMPSON: "The difference was we played 60 minutes at LSU, and we only played like a half in the other games."
Q: You guys played a half at Georgia?
THOMPSON: "Well ... yeah ... I don't know. That was just a bad day. Four turnovers against Georgia in our own territory was a big factor. But Alabama, we were right there and just didn't play well the full 60 minutes."
Q: If you go pro in something other than sports like those dumb NCAA commercials, what would be in your commercial?
THOMPSON: "I want to open a chain of car speed shops."
Q: Awesome. That sounds manly.
THOMPSON: "You know it."
Q: When did you get into cars?
THOMPSON: "I've been into cars since I was little. I've always loved cars. But right now, I have an 'RC' hobby because I can't afford, you know, a big turbo in my car."
Q: I don't know what 'RC' means.
THOMPSON: "Remote control cars."
Q: That doesn't sound as manly.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) What? You never played with RC's?
Q: Yeah. When I was 8.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) All I'm saying is, if you break an axle in an RC, that's $12. It's $1,200 on a real car. Besides, man, they're just fun."
Q: How many do you have?
THOMPSON: "Just one."
Q: That's not enough to call it a hobby.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) I just got into the hobby."
Q: What kind of car is it?
THOMPSON: "It's a one-eighth-scale buggy. It goes about 50 miles an hour. It's pretty cool."
Q: Where in this crowded downtown/campus area do you find room to play with that 50-mile-per-hour missile?
THOMPSON: "Sometimes, I'll have it out here."
Q: We're standing on Haslam Field. You're telling me you bring it out here on the field?
THOMPSON: "Yep. When practice is over, I have it in my car. I bring it out here and drive it around."
Q: Do teammates make fun of you for that? (True freshman quarterback) Nash Nance gets made fun of all the time for driving a moped.
THOMPSON: "Nope. Nope. They all think it's the coolest thing in the world. Now everybody else wants one. Everybody's asking me if they can play with it and where I got it and how much it cost."
Q: OK, let's put these things together: You play with remote control cars, and you already graduated. Are you a nerd?
THOMPSON: "Yeah. Heck yeah. I'm a cool nerd. That's what everybody says."
Q: I've never said that.
THOMPSON: "Well, you should say it. In high school, I was the cool guy but got good grades at the same time."
Q: I bet people just said that because you were the best player at your high school.
Q: So no one would say you were just a normal nerd to your face, even if they knew you were one?
THOMPSON: "Nope. No one."
Q: What about here at UT? You're not the biggest guy here. What would happen if (sophomore defensive tackle) Montori Hughes made fun of your remote control car and called you a nerd? What would happen then?
THOMPSON: "That wouldn't happen. He wouldn't do it. Trust me, he knows I'm crazy."
Q: You? Crazy? I've never seen you get mad. Even after that LSU game - which you claimed was the worst moment of your career - you didn't seem crazy after the game. I talked to you. You were down, obviously, but you didn't throw or kick anything.
THOMPSON: "Oh, I did in the locker room."
Q: Do tell. What did you destroy?
THOMPSON: "Helmets went. Trash cans went. Lots of stuff went."
Q: I bet you guys just tore apart that locker room, didn't you?
THOMPSON: "We started to, but then we got caught."
Q: Which coach caught you?
THOMPSON: "All of them, basically."
Q: But you at least caused a little carnage, right?
THOMPSON: "Oh, yeah. I got a few things."
Q: Have you ever seen an SEC football player skinnier than (true freshman quarterback) Tyler Bray?
THOMPSON: "Yeah. (True freshman wide receiver) Justin Hunter."
Q: Good point. Have you ever gone on a date with someone bigger than Justin Hunter?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter). Naw, man."
Q: Have you ever caught a teammate out on a date with someone bigger than Justin Hunter?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Naw. I've never caught one."
Q: Come on, man. Hunter's a toothpick.
THOMPSON: "OK, OK. You're right. It's possible. But I can't say it for sure. We're SEC football players, man. All the best girls want us athletes."
Q: That's the best part of playing football in this league, right? Don't give me this nonsense about tradition, facilities, fans and all that. It's the girls, isn't it?
THOMPSON: "Oh, yeah. That's definitely a perk."
Q: It's the best perk, isn't it?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Maybe, but I probably shouldn't say that."
Q: Too late. You just said it. Speaking of all the girls wanting you guys, don't you think (senior tight end) Luke Stocker being engaged is the dumbest thing ever?
THOMPSON: "Oh, no. Not at all. Have you see his fiancé? I'd be engaged to her, too."
Q: Since the best part of playing college football is obviously the girls, is that why you didn't go to Georgia Tech?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) I hear you, but that wasn't a big deal to me. It's not just Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta. There's some niiiiiiice ladies down there."
Q: Fair point. But I'm just saying, when I was in college, I went to an on-campus party at Georgia Tech with a buddy of mine who went there, and it was all dudes. One pretty girl walked in there, and it was like a pack of hungry dogs on a steak.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) There's tons of colleges down there. You've got Spelman, and that's an all-girls school. You've got Clark Atlanta. You've got Georgia State. There's ton of girls, man. It's Atlanta. Trust me. They're all over the place."
Q: If someone told you that you were about to die, and you only had one meal left, what would you want to eat?
THOMPSON: "Good question. King crab legs. Definitely a big ol' pile of king crab legs."
Q: What would you eat with it?
THOMPSON: "King crab legs, a big ol' bake potato, and plenty of melted butter over all of it. That's all I need, man."
Q: Did you play high school football with any SEC guys?
THOMPSON: "None on my team, but I played against (UT sophomore linebacker) Nigel Mitchell-Thornton and (UT redshirt freshman linebacker) Robert Nelson."
Q: Mitchell-Thornton? Wow, that guy's a nerd, too.
THOMPSON: "Yeah, Nigel's pretty smart. But Nigel's kind of ... I don't know ... he's something."
Q: Nelson's smart, too. Did you guys ever get together and play Dungeons & Dragons or Magic: The Gathering?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) Naw, man."
Q: I was also a nerd who played ball back in the day. I think I'm one more Netflix documentary away from the Nerd Hall of Fame. Do you have any other nerdy hobbies?
THOMPSON: "Dragon Ball Z. I love it. No lie. Love it."
Q: Japanimation? Really?
THOMPSON: "Yeah. I used to draw them all the time. All the time."
Q: What do you draw now?
THOMPSON: "Cars. Lots of cars."
Q: Is drawing nerdy?
THOMPSON: "If so, I'm a big nerd."
Q: We've already established that. Who's the smartest guy on this team?
THOMPSON: "I'd probably say (junior tailback) Tauren (Poole)."
Q: I didn't ask you who was the biggest mama's boy.
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) I'm telling him you said it."
Q: Whatever. I don't care.
THOMPSON: "I know. He's a smart guy, though. He's about to get his degree. He'll have it soon. Trust me, he's a smart guy."
Q: What's something embarrassing that no one knows about one of your teammates?
THOMPSON: "You don't want to know."
Q: I so do.
THOMPSON: "Oh, I know. A bunch of us went on a cruise, and (senior middle linebacker) Nick Reveiz and (junior center) Cody Pope wore "Knoxville, Tennessee" T-shirts cut up way high, and some hot-boy jorts."
THOMPSON: "Yep. Jorts. And cowboy hats. And they walked around the boat with that on all day. The pictures are all over Facebook. You haven't seen them?"
Q: I haven't. So with Pope wearing jorts, being a vegetarian and having longer hair than most women, is he the most made-fun-of guy on the team?
THOMPSON: "Naw. Naw, man. He's one of the coolest guys on the team. He's a comedian. Everybody loves Cody."
Q: Where did you go on the cruise? Who went with you?
THOMPSON: "Let's see. It was a seven-day cruise. We went to ... uh ... Puerto Rico ... and ... uh ... hold on."
(Thompson shouts inside the football complex to Reveiz: "Hey Nick, where did we go on that cruise?)
(Reveiz, who is playing with some of the coaches' children, doesn't answer immediately. Thompson laughs and says, "Hold on, man. Nick be dropping kids all over the place.")
THOMPSON: "Hey Nick, where did we go on that cruise?"
REVEIZ: "We went to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) and Grand Turk (Island)."
Q: What was the best part of that trip that you can discuss publicly?
THOMPSON: "Don't tell him nothing, Nick."
REVEIZ: "(Laughter.) Man, the whole trip was awesome. A bunch of us football players went."
Q: A bunch of dudes on a boat? That doesn't sound that awesome.
REVEIZ: "Naw, man. We met a bunch of girls, too."
Q: Which guys went?
(Reveiz named himself, Thompson, Pope, junior linebacker Jake Storey, junior linebacker Austin Johnson, recently-transferred quarterback Nick Stephens and senior kicker Daniel Lincoln.)
Q: Quite the crew there.
REVEIZ: "Yeah, it was awesome. My parents went, too, and LT's mom went."
Q: Chaperones? Again, that doesn't sound that awesome.
REVEIZ: "Naw, man. It was awesome."
THOMPSON: "Trust me, my mama and Nick's parents were doing their own thing. It was a big boat, man."
Q: Were the native girls impressed with you guys being SEC football players?
THOMPSON: "(Laughter.) No. We didn't tell them who we were."
Q: You didn't play the football player card? You're not as smart as I thought.
THOMPSON: "Oh, on the boat, we did."
Q: Did it work?
THOMPSON: "Oh, boy, did it."
Q: Now we're talking. You guys should have told the native girls that you were soccer players.
THOMPSON: "Dang, man. You're right. That totally would have worked - especially in Puerto Rico.
REVEIZ: "We weren't off the boat that long, anyway. You just get off the boat for a couple or hours, see the island and then get back on the boat."
THOMPSON: "We weren't thinking, man. Next time, we're soccer players off the boat, football players on the boat."
REVEIZ: "You met that one girl, though."
THOMPSON: "Don't tell him that."
REVEIZ: "(Laughter.) So we're in Puerto Rico, and some girl walks up to LT and goes, 'Donovan McNabb?!?!?!?!' She started feeling his biceps. It was the funniest thing ever."
Q: Did you correct her, or did you tell her you were Donovan McNabb?
THOMPSON: "I was like, 'Yeah, that's me. I'm Donovan. Nice to meet you.' She took a picture and everything."
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com or 865-851-9739.
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