By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
RAVENNA – There are times when David Thompson glances across the practice field and wishes he could be playing junior varsity with his classmates.
That’s not an unusual wish for a 15-year-old sophomore.
“I admit I miss being with my guys sometimes,” said Thompson, a standout sophomore receiver for Ravenna. “It’s hard to watch them over there practicing. That’s my real grade. I love my grade. I will never compare any other grade to my grade.
“But that doesn’t mean I don’t love my (varsity) team.”
Thompson never played JV at Ravenna. The varsity coaches have known for several years that he had the speed and athleticism to join the varsity when he reached the ninth grade.
The coaches made the right call, because Thompson is a rising force on the local high school football scene.
Last year, playing wide receiver for the first time, the ninth-grader had 32 catches for 792 yards (a 24.9 yard per catch average) and 10 touchdown receptions.
This year he has already caught three touchdown passes for a team that is throwing a bit less frequently while it breaks in a new quarterback.
“He’s the most physically talented kid in our league,” said Ravenna football Coach David Smith, whose team has started out 3-0 this season. “You can ask other coaches in the league and I think they would say he’s the most feared on the outside. He’s got a lot of room to grow, and he’s the fastest kid on our team.
“He’s a lot tougher than I ever expected. He goes up and fights for the ball and runs over people when he has the ball. That’s what makes him such a great receiver. Nobody is going to throw him off his route. We don’t have anybody in practice who can cover him, and I can’t think of anyone in the league right now who could cover him one-on-one.”
Thompson was a successful tailback in middle school, but Smith moved him to wide receiver as a freshman, partially because of his speed and catching ability, and partly because the Bulldogs had a senior tailback last year.
Thompson’s emergence has allowed Ravenna to diversify its attack for the past two seasons. The Bulldogs were primarily a running team until he showed up, but now Smith will not hesitate to put the ball in the air at any given time.
“When you have a guy that people have to double team, it definitely opens things up,” Smith said. “And you don’t need a quarterback who throws pinpoint passes. He goes up and gets the ball. He’s the real deal.
“We threw the ball twice to him in our first game this year and he scored two touchdowns. On the second one there were five Kent City kids around him, but he made a move and went 47 yards and scored. I can’t even describe it.”
Thompson also lines up as a kick returner, but rarely sees the ball because teams kick away from him, according to Smith. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly since Ravenna has another speedster, Dakota Hudson, who is dangerous in the open field, as well.
Hudson returned the opening kickoff against Mason County Central and a punt against Kent City in the season opener.
“(Thompson) makes a team better just by being a decoy,” Smith said.
Thompson said he grew up going to Ravenna football games. He remembers role modeling himself after former Bulldog tailback Javon Martin.
“He was number 2, and that’s why I’m number 2 now,” Thompson said. “I remember playing football in back of the bleachers during varsity games and acting like I was him and dreaming of playing varsity.”
Thompson said he was a bit intimidated last season, joining the varsity as a 14-year-old freshman. But it didn’t take him long to become comfortable and start making his mark on the team.
“I realized I had so many guys behind my back, and I wasn’t scared anymore. I just decided that I was going to go all out.
“I just never give up on the ball. I know that if I go my hardest the outcome will be ultimately positive. If I go as hard as I can, and sprint as hard as I can, I can get to that ball.”
Thompson still has some improving to do.
Smith says he needs to learn to be a better two-way player. At the moment he’s in the rotation as a defensive back, but Smith says he can be much better.
The coach said Thompson also has to spend more time in the weight room, to further develop his natural strength and speed.
“He needs to maximize his use of the weight room – that will make him that much better,” Smith said. “He should be our best defensive back and he’s not there yet. To be a complete football player he needs to play defense.”
Thompson said his coach has a point, particularly about the weight room.
“There’s just something about it I don’t like,” Thompson admitted. “But I’ve realized in the last few weeks of practice that the weight room can do a lot.”