Thompson: ‘We respect O’Brien’

By on January 8, 2014

By:

BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor bmorgan.eph@lnpnews.com

, Staff Writer

Deron Thompson was with a couple of his Penn State football teammates on New Year’s Eve when one of their cell phones rang.

The caller was Lions boss Bill O’Brien, whose name was being linked with the NFL’s Houston Texans and their coaching opening.

"When it started breaking down, I was actually with (Dallastown’s) Ben Kline and (East Pennsboro’s) Bryce Wilson. He said, ‘Hey, I’m with (the Texans),’" recalled Thompson, a 2011 Warwick High School grad. "He told us he’s moving on and he just wanted my teammate to relay the message. I was glad I was with them at that time, finding all that news out then. O’Brien’s got stuff to do and we respect him for that."

Just three days later, O’Brien was introduced as the Texans’ new coach at Reliant Stadium in Houston and another chapter in Penn State history officially came to a close.

O’Brien, who is credited with doing a masterful job in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, leaves behind a program which finished a combined 15-9 in his two seasons in Happy Valley. With QB Christian Hackenberg earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year accolades this fall, the imaginations of the Penn State faithful were running wild with what he could accomplish under O’Brien.

Instead, the Nittany Lions will now wait to see who is hired as their next leader.

Thompson, back in Lititz over the holiday break, is like everyone else playing the waiting game, but he holds no animosity for O’Brien.

"He was a great coach," Thompson said. "He helped Penn State in probably the toughest time it’s gone through. So I mean, he’s done a great job with everything. As players, we all respect him and we loved him. He knew what he was doing on the football field, off the football field. He ran the right plays, said the right things. He was just a cool guy to be around. I mean, you’ve got to respect him for his dreams of the NFL and the future that he wants. So we respect him. We enjoyed playing for him. I wish him the best."

Asked if he was surprised by O’Brien’s move after just two seasons in Happy Valley, Thompson said, "He always told us that the highest level of coaching is obviously the NFL. We knew he wanted to do that eventually. We didn’t know when it would happen, but it worked out best for him here, so you’ve got to wish him the best, right?

It was O’Brien who gave Thompson a scholarship this past fall, despite sanctions that reduced the number of those with which PSU could sign recruits.

With the Nittany Lions once again in a state of transition, Thompson, a former walk-on, has no idea how his scholarship status will be affected under the new head coach.

"Some of the coaches have called," said Thompson, who earned his second varsity letter this season as a special teams mainstay. "It’s a turbulent time, we don’t really know what’s going on. We’ll find out in the future."

In the days after O’Brien’s decision to go to the Texans, there were reports that James Franklin, who led Vanderbilt to a 23-15 record in three seasons in the SEC, was the No. 1 target for the Nittany Lions.

Thompson, though, said that he hasn’t been following the rumor mill too closely.

"We talk about (who might get hired), but we can’t control it," he said. "That’s all our Athletic Department’s and AD and the president hiring, so I can’t control it. I’m not going to really worry about it. Once they hire somebody, I’m sure they’ll do a great job with it and I’m looking forward to playing for him."

Whether it’s Franklin or somebody else who gets the job, Thompson knows that he will have to prove himself all over again. He’s not worried about how his role might change with the new regime.

"I’m excited," said Thompson, who played mostly on the kickoff, punt return, and kickoff return teams. "Once again, here we are going through it again. But change is good. Change is fun. You get to go out there and start right back up and see what happens. I’m not worried. I’m excited as always. I love Penn State. It’s not just the coaching staff. It’s a great place to be. I like all my teammates. We’ve got a great group of guys, so I think it will be good."

By this summer, Thompson will graduate with a double major in energy business finance and economics. He still has two years of eligibility remaining with the Nittany Lions and he plans to play in 2014 and 2015 while enrolled in the MBA program at Penn State, where he recently got accepted.

The former Warrior star and his teammates will be hoping for more outcomes like the one they had in their regular-season finale in November. They were heavy underdogs going into Wisconsin, but pulled off a 31-24 upset, knocking the Badgers out of a Bowl Championship Series game.

"It seemed like everything was finally clicking," Thompson said. "That was a great way to end the season on a high note like that."

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