It has been less than three years, but to Kansas State wide receiver Tramaine Thompson it seems like a lifetime.
On an October 2010 Saturday at Kansas, Thompson makes a quick head-and-shoulder fake that puts the defensive back flat on his back, desperately grasping for air and flailing at Thompson with his leg before the then-freshman wide receiver goes darting up the sideline for a long gain.
The pass play from Carson Coffman was an ESPN “SportsCenter” top 10 play that night.
“I didn’t know anything back then!” Thompson said, laughing. “I was out here with (former K-State receiver) Brandon Banks, acting like I did, though. I’m always joking with the younger dudes, calling myself the old head on the team because I’ve seen a lot of things. It’s crazy to say it’s my senior year and now I’m one of the leaders in the room.
“So you talk about that play, and it almost seems like it happened to somebody else. It’s a weird feeling.”
Memories, man. They tend to put things in perspective.
So much good has happened since then, for both the Wildcats and Thompson, that when he talks about his senior season, it is tinged with unbridled optimism. Forget that he doesn’t know if his starting quarterback will be Jake Waters or Daniel Sams. Forget that K-State lost its best receiver, Chris Harper, to the NFL, and a good portion of the faces on the field will be ones that have never seen meaningful game action.
“The thing I always loved about Chris was that he had this swagger about him, that when he walked in the room or on the field his attitude was always like nobody could touch him, that he was going to come out on top,” Thompson said. “I was never as vocal as he was, never as outgoing, but I like to think I picked up a little of that confidence.”
Thompson’s numbers can back up whatever he says. He was second at K-State last season in all-purpose yards (1,176) and scored five touchdowns. His numbers were split almost evenly between receiving (526 yards), kick returns (316) and punt returns (334). He was honorable mention All-Big 12 punt returner last season and was named a preseason All-Big 12 punt returner and candidate for the Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in college football.
“I just love him, he’s probably one of the best leaders we have and one of my favorite players to be around,” K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. “He has a huge football IQ and he works so hard. I enjoy being around him because he loves the game of football, and loves to compete. Those are the kinds of kids coaches want to be around.”
Thompson (5-foot-8, 167 pounds) is part of a duo of undersized returners at receiver and in the return game, along with Tyler Lockett (5-11, 175), who led K-State in all-purpose yardage.
“It’s on me and Lockett and Curry Sexton to show these younger guys how things go, to help them out as much as we can,” Thompson said. “I don’t think of myself as a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver or anything like that because I don’t put myself in that position, mentally. When I work out or when I practice, I just try to get more disciplined in my route running, to push myself physically as much as I can. I set the bar high for myself and go after it.”
And it’s that kind of approach that has won over coaches and teammates since he came to K-State from Jenks (Okla.) High in 2009.
“As a player, he’s a dynamic guy for us who can make an impact on special teams or wide receiver and runs good routes and sets an example for all the other receivers,” Sexton said. “Off the field, he’s one of my favorite people on the team. He’s got an infectious personality ... he knows how to make us laugh and he knows how to be serious when he has to.”