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August 22, 2013
Rudy's Country Store and Barbecue is a gas station, which is the kind of notion that makes sense to folks who live near or in Norman. It's enough to know Rudy's is more than what it seems.
The tables inside Rudy's are covered with red and white picnic squares just hours before the dinner rush. A University of Oklahoma flag hangs nailed against the east wall, while restaurant management works over the record books and menus on a table in the back.
The man who made his name running legendary OU coach Barry Switzer's wishbone nearly 25 years ago sits across the table pondering the future of his firstborn.
SCOOPHD: KENDAL THOMPSON'S FALL TIMELINE
Charles Thompson is one of just a handful of folks in the entire building two weeks into Oklahoma football's fall camp or two weeks since Charles' son, Kendal Thompson, fractured his right foot in what OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel called a "freak instance" on the first day of practice.
Thompson, a redshirt sophomore, was one of three quarterbacks vying for the starting position in 2013 when the injury occurred. The foot required surgery and was said to keep him out of practice for four to six weeks.
"It was tough for me because, as a dad, I know how hard he's worked," Charles says, using his hands to demonstrate his grief. "I know the sacrifice he's made. Not just over the last eight months but over the last two years."
Thompson sat through three years of watching former Sooner Landry Jones put together one of the most productive years by a quarterback in school history. Then he watched redshirt junior Blake Bell as he took the only other meaningful snaps the last two seasons.
Now knowing he had no chance of starting in Oklahoma's Aug. 31 opener, Charles knows not being able to play the game he loves hurts Kendal more than it hurts him.
But Charles' son has dealt with setbacks before on and off the football field, and he's sure the child he and his wife raised will be ready when OU coach Bob Stoops calls his number.
"He's been waiting for this moment, and I personally feel like he's going to surprise a lot of people," Charles said.
Thompson was just 3 when he started playing football competitively, and he's been an athlete since he could speak.
His father, nor his mother, ever needed to push him in football or any other sport he played. Thompson did that all on his own.
"Everything that he did was about a ball," Charles said. "When he first started talking, it was always 'Ball, ball, ball.'"
As soon as his father recognized his drive to play, he began coaching the sport when Thompson was old enough to play tackle football. Thompson's grandfather, the late Norman Kaubin, coached football at Capitol High School, and served as Charles' assistant coach.
The experience of a former high school football coach was needed for a team full of elementary school age kids because Charles was intent on throwing the football.
"Everybody asked me, being from around here, if we were going to run the wishbone. I said no," Charles said. "We were running a pro-style offense, and at 7 years old, nobody really threw the ball back then."
His son played quarterback, and Charles wasn't worried about his son's ability to run an offense many might think is too sophisticated for children just learning the game. He knew what he had in Thompson, a child who loved to learn about football.
At age 7, Charles began teaching Thompson the fundamentals of understanding defenses. By age 10, Thompson was calling out hot routes and audibles at the line of scrimmage.
Later Thompson would come home and study film of his games with his father and grandfather.
"At evening time when most kids were probably playing with their Playstations, Kendal was in the room with us breaking down film, breaking down defenses and learning tendencies of each individual player," Charles said.
Good study habits are a family trait.
Scholastically, Thompson is something of a wunderkind and started school the same year he began playing football.
His mother, Kori Thompson, comes from a family of educators, and she is likely the biggest reason Thompson graduated high school with a grade point average of 4.38.
Both of her parents were teachers, and her aunt taught at the college level. She refused to let her children coast through school.
"He wasn't allowed to get a 'B' in school, and he knew if he brought home that 'B' I wouldn't let him play sports," Kori said. "I'm a really nice person, but I'm really strict. You just know not to play around with me when it comes to grades."
Kori made sure her son was challenged in the classroom at all times. When Thompson proved he could accumulate more Accelerated Reader points than most other kids, she asked him to read more.
He was reading J.K. Rowling's 1,000-page tomes about Harry Potter before he entered middle school, and when he finally arrived at middle school Kori saw to it he was going to be challenged there, too. She helped set up the kind of middle school schedule that would make an Ivy League grad shudder.
"Before he got into junior high, I met with the principal and the counselor before he enrolled and kind of set up his schedule geared toward graduating early," Kori said. "He was always in the (pre-Advanced Placement) classes.
He's stayed in all the honors classes since he first enrolled in junior high. I think he got about four classes out of the way when he was in junior high, so by the time he got to high school he could've actually graduated his junior year."
Thompson didn't want to graduate too early, though. He wanted to play as much high school football as he could.
The first quarterback Southmoore High School ever started was Thompson.
Most coaching staffs have a hard time picking a quarterback because the position means more than just throwing a football. It means having the physical ability to perform in a manner most cannot.
It means having the ability to think critically and make decisions on the fly. It means constant studying and unflinching devotion to the ideal of what a team can accomplish.
It means leading.
Southmoore coach Jeff Brickman saw those qualities in Thompson, and he and then-head coach Chris Jensen didn't hesitate to give Thompson the job.
"I had just never seen a quarterback before that was as athletic as he was, could throw the ball as accurately as he could, understood the game as well as he did," Brickman said. "Sometimes, maybe you see somebody with two of those three things, but he had all three of those things. He was sophomore, and he was our starting quarterback from Day 1. Just don't see that very often."
In the fall of 2009, the SaberCats who had only begun their football program one year earlier were making noise in the state's largest high school football division, Class 6A.
One of the reasons for their rapid rise was Thompson.
As a junior, he'd shown tactician's understanding of the defenses in front of him and the best ways to exploit them while leading Southmoore to an 11-2 record and semifinal appearance in the state playoffs.
The Sabercats scored 65 touchdowns that year. Thompson accounted for 40 of them.
29 of Thompson's touchdowns came through the air, as he passed for 2,793 yards. 10 of them came on the ground, as he rushed for 466 yards on 134 carries.
One of them landed in his hands, as he caught two passes for 50 yards. But stats aren't enough to get you recruited to Oklahoma.
The SaberCats had just beaten Lawton High School 46-28 at Lawton in October 2009. Brickman and Thompson were reviewing the film from that game when Thompson pointed at the screen.
He told his coach to pay close attention to the upcoming play, but at the end of the play Brickman didn't see anything out of the ordinary. So he rewound the tape, and slowed it down focusing on Thompson's motion at the snap of the ball.
"What you would see is when you slowed it down, when he said 'go' to snap the ball his mouthpiece fell out of his mouth," Brickman said. "He picked up his mouthpiece in the air with his left hand, caught the ball from the snap with his right hand, put the mouthpiece in his mouth and threw about a 40-yard pass to Austin Haywood all at the same time.
"You watch it, and it just blew me away. I'd never seen anything like it before."
Thompson had been a college student for nearly three years when the first open quarterback competition in years broke out in the spring of 2013. He held his own.
He showed quickness, awareness, mobility and an ability to deliver the ball where it was needed when it was needed, but he hadn't gained -- nor had he lost -- any ground in the overall competition.
Stoops was in no hurry to name a starter at the end of spring practice. He wanted see how Thompson developed alongside Bell and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight.
Then on the night of May 10 Thompson was arrested for public intoxication. He was just four days from turning 21 years old.
It was young man's mistake and one that has proven to be out of character for Thompson.
"As a dad you're disappointed, because I feel like he's fighting a lot of things uphill," Charles said. "Speaking candidly about it, a lot of the people who will never forgive me for what I did will quickly bring that back up with him. He's worked too hard to allow something like that off the field and let something like that come about."
Stoops did not publicly address the arrest and likes to keep any disciplinary actions internal. If the situation hurt Thompson's chances of earning the starting job prior to his injury, Stoops never said so.
Charles wears his 1992 national championship ring in Rudy's. It's one of his favorite mementos from the year he led Central State, a small historically black college in Ohio, to the NAIA title, and it gleams in the sunlight as he talks about Thompson.
He's animated when he talks about the kind of person his son has become: personable, likable, whip smart. Charles explains it was Thompson's dream to go to Oklahoma.
It was Thompson's dream to be like his father.
He inches closer toward that dream with each passing day, and when it comes, Charles has no doubt he'll show the kind of quarterback he is.
Like Rudy's, Kendal Thompson could turn out to be much more than what he seems.