Defensive End Glad to be Back

ATHENS -- Discounting the lost season of 2003, Will Thompson has never missed a practice at the University of Georgia, never missed a training run or workout or a meeting.

"Not one single thing," Georgia assistant Jon Fabris said. "There are not many players who can say that."

David Pollack, the man who will benefit most from Will Thompson's return from a devastating ankle injury, says, "I've never met a guy as tough as he is."

But Thompson's impressive streak has nothing to do with pain tolerance, he says. It has more to do with a wandering soul. For the 2000 graduate of Northside High School, Georgia's training room might as well have a warden.

"I've been in the training room before, and I don't like it," he said. "It's the most boring, dreadful place I've ever been."

Thompson spent way too much time in it last year while he recuperated from a dislocated ankle. Now that he's back on the field for the Bulldogs, he has no plans to return. In motion is how Will Thompson is the happiest.

"If you know William very well," said Northside High School Conrad Nix, "you know he is running around all the time."

Nix is responsible for getting Thompson into football. He spotted the tall, "stringy" ninth-grader on the first day of school in the Northside lunch room. When he broached the subject of trying out for the football team, Nix discovered he was talking to a blank slate.

Not only did Thompson know nothing about playing the game, he knew nothing about the game at all, Nix said.

"He didn't know the difference between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Washington Redskins," Nix said. "He never sat around long enough to watch it. If he wasn't playing it, he didn't sit down to watch it."

"I'm not a fan of any sports," Thompson said. "I just play."

Even after three years of playing the game at Northside, he hadn't developed a sense of it beyond himself and his team. In the spring before his senior year, Nix printed out a list of all the defensive ends who had just been taken in the NFL Draft, hoping to motivate Thompson. His time was wasted.

"I asked him if he knew how many defensive ends were drafted," Nix said. "He just looked at me, so I repeated it. He didn't even know what the NFL Draft was."

Thompson's non-stop motion is one of the things that endears him to Fabris, the Bulldogs' defensive ends coach. Fabris is the most gruff of the team's assistant coaches, but he embraces the players who impress him, and Thompson has done that in every way.

It started as soon as Thompson arrived in Athens and how he never quit in practice despite weighing just 215 pounds and getting "whipped" every day, as Fabris described it. And it has continued to this spring and fall with Thompson refusing to miss a practice despite recovering from surgery.

"He could have had a day off here or there, but he doesn't do it," Fabris said. "There are a lot of players who wouldn't have done that. They would have milked it, but that's not his style.

Fabris is also taken by Thompson's kindness. While the coach's wife was pregnant earlier this year, Thompson asked about her every week, Fabris said.

"He's very thoughtful," Fabris said. "Most players don't give a rat's behind about a coach."

"You can't even start to have enough adjectives to describe him," Nix said. "He's just a super young man. He was never a problem. I don't ever remember anything other than quality things that teachers and people in the community had to say about him."

On the field, Thompson has come a long way, developing from a kid who didn't play football because he "wasn't a very physical guy," to an instigator of Pollack proportions who got into two ferocious fights with offensive lineman Daniel Inman during the spring game.

"He's generally trying to stir something up," Fabris said.

Thompson wasn't one of the Bulldogs' most high-profile recruits when he came out of Northside, mainly because he weighed just north of 200 pounds. He redshirted his first season and then had a quiet freshman year, making six tackles. The breakout came in his sophomore season, when he had 59 tackles and six sacks. He had five tackles and two sacks against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl and "probably should have been the MVP," Fabris said.

He was slated to start in 2003 and was named preseason All-SEC second team by one magazine, but he dislocated his ankle before the first game.

The year off was torture. He could barely sit still long enough to watch his team on television when the Bulldogs were on the road. When he did watch the games, nobody wanted to be around him.

"He watched a few of them here at home," said his mother, Antoinette Simmons, who was transferred from San Antonio to Robins Air Force Base in 1991. "It wasn't fun watching the games with him. He was so serious about it. It was like, 'OK, we'll go in the other room and watch the game.'"

Not being on the field has always bothered Thompson.

"He'd be on the kickoff team (in high school)," Nix said. "We might be ahead of somebody a little bit and want to sub in some of our younger guys, and William would get mad at me for taking him off the kickoff team because he wanted to cover kicks."

When Thompson came back for spring practice this year, the effects of his injury were still noticeable.

"You could tell it was bothering him in the spring," said Inman, whose on-field skirmishes with Thompson are no indication of his feelings about his teammate. "I'm just happy to be associated with a guy like that. You know that he's going to go flat out on every play so you know you have to. I think he's made me better."

Thompson is 100 percent healthy this fall, he said, and his teammates and coaches agree. Still, there's the question of how he'll play after a year off.

"You hope it would be something like you saw at the end of the 2002 season," Fabris said. "Of course, that was a long time ago. Until you see it for real, you can't say he's the same guy."

If Thompson does return to that form, the 6-foot-3, 254-pound senior, will provide a pass-rushing threat Georgia didn't have last year and take pressure off Pollack on the other side.

"I don't care about on the field," Pollack said. "I love having him back (for other reasons). It's his spirit. He makes me a better person."

Thompson's goal is modest. In fact, he's already achieved it. He's back in motion.

"I just want to get back out their playing," he said. "That's all I can ask for, anything else is extra."

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