Malik Thompson enjoying emotional journey
HUNTINGTON — Throughout the course of his senior season, Marshall University defensive tackle Malik Thompson has seldom been stopped by the opposition.
On Monday, however, it was Thompson’s emotions that couldn’t be stopped.
As Thompson spoke at player interviews, the fifth-year senior had tears in his eyes when opening up about his journey with the Thundering Herd.
“When I think about it, it just really gets to me because I really worked so hard to get where I’m at right now, and nobody understands that,” Thompson said. “The people who see, it’s a blessing.”
Coming into the 2018 season, Thompson hadn’t gained traction at any particular spot with the Herd, bouncing from a reserve defensive lineman to a reserve offensive lineman and back to the defensive line.
Prior to this season Thompson had just eight career tackles -- one for loss -- and one fumble recovery to his credit.
The 6-foot-6, 282-pound native of Winter Park, Fla., received Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors Monday after eclipsing those totals in one impressive Saturday afternoon in Marshall’s 31-7 win over Florida Atlantic University. Thompson finished the game with nine tackles, the first forced fumble of his career and the first pass interception of his career.On his interception Marshall’s defensive call had Thompson -- a defensive tackle -- staying with FAU running back Devin Singletary, a 2017 All-American and the Preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year, who is also the Owls’ top playmaker.
At the snap, Thompson hustled to track Singletary out of the backfield and had an angle on him to the sideline as FAU quarterback Chris Robison floated a pass into the flat while under pressure. A blitz had thrown the timing off and forced Robison to throw early. The ball bounded off of a surprised Singletary and into the waiting arms of Thompson, who then went to turn up field and was tripped up by Singletary at the Owls’ 27.
Thompson joked about his pre-snap thoughts when seeing he was going to have to stay with the speedy running back of the Owls.
“If he catches it, I’ve got to dive for him because he’s going to burn me,” Thompson said. “He’s going to leave me in the dust. He dropped it and it went in the air. It was just a blessing. It was crazy.”
In a game full of big plays for the Marshall defense, it was the biggest.
The play came on the first drive of the second half in a game that, at the time, Marshall led 10-7.
Three plays later, Marshall’s offense turned the takeaway into a touchdown as Tyler King raced 17 yards to the end zone to give the Herd a two-score advantage, which forced the Owls to become even more one-dimensional in their attack.
Marshall safety Malik Gant, who also had an interception, said seeing Thompson rewarded for his hard work was a shot in the arm for the team.
“Each player has their own story or back-story of what they’ve been through and what they’ve had to get through,” Gant said. “That just shows how strong our team is as a unit and how close we are. Each person, we take what we’ve been through and we put it (out) as a family, as a team, and show it on the field.”
Thompson was responsible for two of Marshall’s five takeaways Saturday. In the second quarter Thompson forced a fumble when he stripped Florida Atlantic running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. The ball bounced ahead into the arms of Marshall defensive back Kereon Merrell.
For Thompson, the performance -- and his entire 2018 season -- is vindication for staying the course and never losing sight of his goals.
“I just want to let the young guys know no matter what you go through or how your season goes, just never give up,” Thompson said. “Keep going because you don’t know what can happen. You can never lose faith in what you believe in and what you are doing.”
The performance also capped a meaningful weekend when Thompson celebrated the final Homecoming of his Marshall career.
With his days on the field for Marshall numbered, Thompson said he wants to make each one of them count while sharing his journey with young players who might follow a similar path.
“It was a blessed weekend,” Thompson said. “Everything that happened to me was a blessing. Everything that’s going on this season is a blessing. I couldn’t thank God and (Marshall defensive tackles) Coach (J.C.) Price and the coaches any more for what’s going on in my life right now. Words can’t explain it. It’s just a blessing.”