Alabama has had a Hollywood movie script story this year, Jalen Hurts coming off the bench in place of Tua Tagovailoa, and leading the Crimson Tide to victory in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. In recounting the narrative of Hurts having been benched in the same Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the same Georgia Bulldogs in last January’s national championship game with Tagovailoa orchestrating the comeback victory, Bama Coach Nick Saban said if that script was taken to a producer he would toss it back with a one- or two-word comment, depending upon how one spells “Bullshit.”
Not so dramatic has been an historical script subject — the Broadway star coming down with illness on the night of the performance and the crowded theater informed that an understudy would be playing the role. Disappointment gives way to thunderous appreciation as the unknown is brilliant.
Think Deionte Thompson.
Alabama went into the College Football Playoff last year without the services of Tony Brown. Thompson would get the start at safety for the Sugar Bowl semifinal against Clemson and in the title game against Georgia. He had been a regular backup, though most of his 12 tackles had come on special teams. He had an interception against Mercer.
Thompson didn’t take away the glory from the stars of the playoffs, but was very solid – four tackles and a pass broken up in the win over Clemson and three tackles and a pass break-up against Georgia.
With Alabama opening this season with none of the six secondary regulars from the 2017 season, conventional wisdom was that Thompson had shown that he would lock down a safety spot in the rebuilt defensive backfield.
That proved to be something of an understatement. A year ago Thompson was in the process of upgrading to starter. Today he is a consensus first team All-America after earning the honor from the Associated Press, Sporting News, the American Football Coaches Association, and Sports Illustrated; and second team by Walter Camp and the Football Writers Association. He was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award given to the nation’s best defensive player.
“I really wasn’t expecting it,” said Thompson, a 6-2, 194-pound fourth-year junior from Orange, Texas, “but it was a huge honor. Just me being the competitor I am, being an All-America is huge.
“But if we don’t complete the big goal, that won’t mean much to me.”
It’s no secret that the “big goal” is just ahead as Bama will play Oklahoma on Dec. 29 in the Orange Bowl, the semifinal round of the national championship playoff.
Thompson and his Crimson Tide defensive mates recognize the challenge of the Oklahoma offense that leads the nation in total offense and scoring behind the Sooners’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Kyler Murray. “It’s a challenge that we have to step up and be ready for,” Thompson said.
As for Murray being the best quarterback Alabama has faced this year, Thompson said, “Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. We’ve played against some great quarterbacks, but he’s by far the best.”
He said, however, that he didn’t think of facing the Heisman Trophy winner as motivation. “If you’re not motivated to play in the playoff, then I don’t think you should even be around.”
Thompson has earned his 2018 accolades. He ranks second for Bama’s offense in tackles with 71, including a team-high 42 solo stops, and has been on four tackles for loss. He has five passes broken up, two interceptions returned for 65 total yards, leads the Tide with four forced fumbles, and has a fumble recovery.
He was notable in the warm-up to the CFP with eight tackles and a caused fumble in the SEC title game.
And there’s another twist to the Thompson story. Oklahoma recruited Thompson. “But my mom just fell in love with this place,” he said. So once Mom said, ‘This is where you’re coming,’ I didn’t have any other choice.”
“Oh yeah, they recruited me. But you know, my mom just fell in love with this place, so once Mom said, ‘This is where you’re coming,’ I didn’t have any other choice.”