Texas quarterback Casey Thompson (8) warms up before an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Football

Sam’s the man, but who’s No. 2? QB Casey Thompson moves into backup spot at Texas

Charles Thompson on his son exploring a transfer: ‘He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. He can’t do what I want to do.’

Posted March 8th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Sam Ehlinger, who will be a junior this fall, is entrenched as the Longhorns' starting QB.
  • Casey Thompson accounted for 12,840 total yards as a high school quarterback.
  • Longhorns begin the first of 15 spring workouts on Monday.

As one who bleeds crimson and cream, Oklahoma-raised Charles Thompson truly epitomizes the university’s fight song: Sooner born, Sooner bred and when he dies, he’ll be Sooner dead.

It might kill him to turn those Horns right-side up.

But if Thompson’s son, Casey, gets on the field this fall or sometime in the future, “Hey, you never know,” he said. “Anything can happen.”

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Just don’t tell The King, OU legend Barry Switzer.

“I made a commitment to (Texas coach Tom) Herman and those guys,” said Thompson, who quarterbacked OU to an 11-1 season as a redshirt freshman in 1987. “My promise and commitment was I wouldn’t don the actual burnt orange or throw up the Hook ’em until my son’s actually on the field playing.”

Texas Longhorns Sam Ehlinger and Casey Thompson run through drills during their open practice to the media at Wright Whitaker Sports Complex Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Three months ago, Herman planned on having five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster this spring. Practice begins Monday, and now there’s only three. 

Sam Ehlinger, who will be a junior this fall, is the entrenched starter and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Herman may say every job is up for grabs during one of his press conferences, but for now, the quarterback position isn’t.

Everyone knows about Ehlinger’s exploits and hard-charging style. Considering that he might one day literally run through a brick wall, Texas’ backup quarterback situation will be a key focus area this spring. NCAA rules allow for 15 spring workouts. The annual Orange-White spring game is scheduled for April 13 at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Casey Thompson, who redshirted last season, was fourth on the depth chart. Now, he’s Ehlinger’s de facto backup after Shane Buechele (SMU) and Cameron Rising (Utah) left for other opportunities. Incoming freshman Roschon Johnson is third just by merely enrolling early in January.

For a few weeks, it looked like Rising and Thompson would leave together. Both quarterbacks put their name into the NCAA transfer database in mid-December to explore other options. But Herman let both go to the Sugar Bowl and remain with the team. The coaching staff had no other choice, really.

“We want them to stick around,” Herman said at the Sugar Bowl. “We don’t want to lose either one of them.”

In New Orleans, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said “we live in a different time.” The rules now allow for players, be they disgruntled or frustrated or whatever, to seek out alternatives. Beck said he expects there to be more quarterbacks go into the transfer database.

Texas wide receiver John Burt (1) and quarterback Casey Thompson (8) celebrate with fans following Texas’ 48-45 win over Oklahoma in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

“There’s no ill feelings,” Beck said at the Sugar Bowl. “It’s going to happen more at the quarterback position because you only play one guy.” Same could be true at running back, he said.

Charles Thompson wasn’t keen on the idea of his son leaving UT. It’s his belief that Casey, a 6-1 gliding runner who was ranked among the top 15 dual-threat recruits in the nation, is a perfect fit for Herman’s offense. “Obviously I’m biased, but I do think I know a little about quarterbacking,” he said.

Casey Thompson accounted for 12,840 total yards and 154 touchdowns in his Oklahoma high school career.

“I’m more of an old-school guy and I’ve always felt that we made the decision and he made the decision to commit and go to Texas,” Thompson said. “It’s more like a marathon and not a sprint. I think sometimes these kids get caught up into seeing other people around the country or just certain things that when it doesn’t work out for them, they get a little bit antsy.”

Thompson said high-caliber athletes aren’t used to being the second- or third-stringer coming out of high school. Every starting quarterback, he said, ultimately spent some time as someone else’s backup.

“To be real frank about it, it just felt like it wasn’t the right timing for that,” Thompson said. “I just felt like things would kind of work themselves out. Casey knew very clearly about where my stance was on that. But it’s his life. He’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. He can’t do what I want to do.”

Thompson knows being a backup isn’t all bad. Jamelle Holieway led the Sooners to the 1985 national title as a freshman and an 11-1 record in 1986. But Thompson got the starting nod in 1987 and guided to an Orange Bowl season, which included a win over Nebraska in a famous No. 1-vs.-2 matchup.

Nowadays, quarterbacks don’t want to wait. Buechele, a junior who lost the starting job to Ehlinger, will finish his UT degree this spring and play at SMU in 2019 as a graduate transfer. Rising, who redshirted at UT last season, will sit out one season at Utah, per NCAA transfer rules.

Texas quarterback Shane Buechele (7) exits the field after falling to Oklahoma State 38-35 during a Big 12 Conference football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Charles said Casey Thompson’s goal has always been to be the No. 2 quarterback after spring practice of his second year. That would’ve been the case no matter where he went to college.

“It’s official,” Casey Thompson tweeted when he announced in January that he was staying. “I thank you for your patience…”

During his national signing day press conference, Herman said, “We’re lucky that Casey has returned, and hopefully this is just a minor blip in the path to his success here at Texas.”

In January, when the dust settled, Herman said he was “excited” about Texas’ quarterbacks room.

“We’ve got a guy that we were afforded the opportunity to redshirt that we think the sky’s the limit for,” Herman said of Thompson. “He did an excellent job running our scout team all year and gave our defensive fits.”

Casey Thompson has not done any interviews while at Texas. Freshmen typically do not get to speak to reporters until they play.

“Casey initially maybe had thoughts of that and certainly put his name in the portal,” Charles Thompson said. “But the reality of it is, he and I both agree that God has a way of working things out the way it’s supposed to be.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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