After three standout seasons at the University of Washington, Shaq Thompson didn't have to wait long to come back to Seattle. In just his fifth NFL game, the Carolina Panthers rookie linebacker will play at CenturyLink Field Sunday when the Seahawks host Carolina.
"I can't wait," Thompson said. "It's a second home, been there for three years, loved it in Seattle. I can't wait to play in front of some of Husky Nation, and it will just be a great homecoming."
In fact, Thompson even called CenturyLink Field home in 2012 when Husky Stadium was being renovated, forcing Washington to find a temporary home during his freshman season. But whether he is excited or not to be back in Seattle, Thompson's main focus will be on helping the Panthers as they try to improve on a 4-0 start. Thompson has started all four of Carolina's games, contributing 16 tackles and a sack playing both outside linebacker positions.
"We've seen some really good things, probably what you guys saw when he was at the UW," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "He's a dynamic football player, he's explosive at the point of attack, he runs very well. He's athletic, he's got great vision. It's funny because I know there's some talk of him not being physical, but that's what he's been. That's been one of his traits, he's been physical and makes physical tackles. We're very pleased with what we've gotten from him, he's fit very well into our linebacking corps. We feel very good about our group of guys, him included."
Thompson was one of three players from Washington's defense to be drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft along with Danny Shelton (Cleveland) and Marcus Peters (Kansas City), and those three, along with Saints' second-round pick Hau'oli Kikaha, have gone straight from starting at Washington to starting in the NFL. Thompson is happy for his former teammates, but currently his focus is on his current team and not his past one.
"I've tried to keep up with them but, at the end of the day I'm really just trying to pay attention to how the Carolina Panthers are going to do," he said. "That's the biggest thing that I need to focus on. I can always just talk to them after the season or just see how they're doing. But right now my focus is just on the Carolina Panthers."
One thing Thompson is enjoying now that he is in the NFL is the fact that he is only playing linebacker after moving all over the field at Washington. Thompson played defensive back and linebacker early in his college career, then added running back to his résumé, and was so effective there that some wondered if he had a brighter future on offense. Thompson was adamant that he wanted to play linebacker in the NFL, however, and so far that decision is working out well for him.
"I actually like it better," Thompson said of sticking to one position. "I can really focus on just one position and one position only. So I can perfect my craft and be the best I can be."
As for why he wanted to be a linebacker and not a running back, Thompson said, "Because I love hitting people. I just love the contact of the game. Longevity-wise, defensive players last longer than running backs."