By THOMAS CORHERN
HERALD-CITIZEN Assistant Sports Editor
COOKEVILLE — Academics and athletics come hand in hand in
the collegiate sports world. Sometimes it takes more than that to
be a success. Sometimes it takes will, spirit and leadership.
All of those are characteristics that have been shown through Tech senior football standout Bradley Thompson’s career with the Golden Eagles.
As a defensive lineman for Tech, Thompson may not have had all the attention or the statistics that some of his counterparts have received, but every single day, Thompson went out on the Tucker Stadium turf and gave his all for the Purple and Gold.
It is those characteristics that makes the Jamestown native the obvious pick for Tennessee Tech’s 2009 Man of the Year.
“Yeah, it’s pretty hard to juggle academics and athletics, but I didn’t really get to have a life,” Thompson joked. “In the end, it worked out all right. I’m enjoying what I do in school and I enjoyed football while I was there and it made things a bit easier.”
Thompson is the 11th member of the Golden Eagle football team to receive the honor since its inception in 1993, joining Willie Queen (1995), Gerald Bentley (1996), Robert Taylor (1997), Jeff Norman (1998), T.J. Christian (1999), Wes Gallagher (2000), Grant Swallows (2002), Brett Vavra (2005), David McMahan (2006) and Anthony Ash (2007).
“Bradley is just a great kid,” said Tech football coach Watson Brown. “Gracious, he’s a solid football player. He played well because of his work ethic. He was undersized, but he’s smart as a tack. He did not make a mistake. He was a great worker and we’re going to miss him. They couldn’t have picked a better kid for the award. There’s nothing but great things to say — I wish every kid was Bradley Thompson. He’s just been a pleasure to be around in the two years I’ve been here. He is everything you’d want a football player to be.”
Thompson beat out a strong list of candidates for the award, including teammates Scott Eller, Josh Lowery and Maurice Smith; Calvin Clark and Greyson Painter (golf); Alex Henry, Evan Webb and Cory Wright (baseball); and Zac Walker (basketball).
Academics is one of those things Thompson excelled in.
In March, Thompson was recognized by the Middle Tennessee chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame as one of seven collegiate players to be awarded the Joe C. Davis Collegiate Scholar-Athlete award.
He was also a two-time recipient of the Ohio Valley Conference Academic Medal of Honor and has made several appearances on both the OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll as well as the Tech Athletic Director’s Honor Roll.
Nationally, Thompson was a two-time Academic All-District selection by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) and ESPN the Magazine and was a two-time selection to the Football Championship Subdivision Athletic Directors’ Association Academic All-Star team.
Thompson was a member of Pi Tau Sigma, the national mechanical engineering honor society.
Statistically, this past season, Thompson played in all 12 games for the Golden Eagles, collecting 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.
That never deterred Thompson.
“I really enjoyed playing defensive line,” Thompson said. “It’s always been something that I really enjoyed. It may not have been as much recognition, but that doesn’t mean much to me. All I wanted to do was win. We didn’t get a lot of those, so it didn’t really matter who got recognized.”
Brown added, “He was always the littlest guy on the field, going against those big ol’ offensive linemen. He was always getting down in the trenches, just fighting anybody as hard as he can. He never gave up. Sometimes we had to take him out because he was getting beat to a pulp, but he was just a wonderful kid.”
And with that spirit, Thompson proved to be a player who led by example.
“Absolutely,” Brown said. “He didn’t talk much. He just went and did his job. ‘What do you want me to do, coach?’”
Thompson added, “I wanted to do everything I could. Never quit.”
Thompson graduated with his bachelor’s degree in May, posting a 3.98 grade point average.
“A typical day in the last year — I had a heavier load in classes,” Thompson said. “Mornings were full of classes and I had to pull several all-nighters to get projects done. It was pretty much relax and you’re behind. That’s what it always seemed like. Football practices did take a lot of time, but it seemed to help me get my mind off the academic work. When I got done with that, I could refocus.”
Having just completed his third season with the Golden Eagles after working his way up from a walk-on to the front lines, Thompson made a tough decision and decided to forgo his final year of eligibility as he works on completing his master’s degree at Tech, a decision that Brown deeply respects.
“I decided to do that because it is a great opportunity,” Thompson said. “Hopefully, it will work out.”
Brown added, “He had another year with us, but he’s going to pursue his career. I certainly don’t blame him for that. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be successful in whatever he does.
“When he came in to see me and said that he was going to go on to graduate school, tears came to his eyes. He loved football that much, but it’s something he just has to do. I told him, ‘Shoot, son, you’ve just got to go. I understand. Go do it.’”