NORMAN — Every Oklahoma starting quarterback plays under enormous, sometimes suffocating pressure. Anything and everything — game day heroics, turnovers, sideline demeanor, media interviews, off-the-field behavior — undergoes heavy, often unfair scrutiny and criticism.
Should sophomore Kendal Thompson emerge from Oklahoma's three-man quarterback derby, all that becomes magnified. Such is life for the son of Charles Thompson, which is why in November 2009, he sat Kendal down and bluntly laid out what committing to Oklahoma would mean.
“I asked if he was ready for everybody wanting to reminisce about the good and the bad of his dad being down there,” Charles Thompson said. “Was he willing to put himself through those pressures and expectations?”
Kendal Thompson, then a Southmoore High junior, said yes, called OU coaches and verbally committed.
In Saturday's spring football game on Owen Field, the quarterback derby between Kendal Thompson, Blake Bell and Trevor Knight will be on display for fans, eager to get a glimpse at the battle to replace four-year starter Landry Jones.
Bell spent the past two seasons thrilling fans with his short-yardage and goal line success in the “Belldozer” formation. Teammates and coaches spent much of last season praising Knight, the redshirting freshman and scout-team quarterback who gave the first-team defense fits week after week.
Kendal Thompson was often forgotten in discussions about Jones' 2013 replacement, but he's firmly inserted himself into the quarterback derby throughout spring practices.
“He's really matured in a great way, in just how he works, the way he works in the weight room, the way he does everything,” said coach Bob Stoops. “He's become a really good football player, and he's been an excellent teammate. He's a guy that works hard at studying the game. He's put a lot of effort into being a complete quarterback and it's showing this spring.”
Kendal Thompson's speed and athleticism — combined with memories of his dad leading Oklahoma's wishbone offense more than two decades ago — has created the wide perception that his passing ability might be his downfall in the Sooners' spread, pass-first offensive attack.
But Stoops said if that were true, OU coaches wouldn't have recruited him.
“We've never recruited anybody here in our time that we didn't feel was a good throwing quarterback,” Stoops said.
Charles Thompson said his son's primary motivation through this spring is demonstrating his capability as a complete quarterback. But Kendal Thompson is also driven, in part, to redeem some of his father's checkered Oklahoma legacy.
“I think one of the things that inspires him is the opportunity to finish something that I started,” Charles Thompson said.
During the offseason, Kendal Thompson changed to jersey No. 1. His dad wanted to wear the number at Oklahoma, but it belonged to halfback Eric Mitchel.
Mitchel was a senior in 1988, Charles Thompson's sophomore — and, as it turned out, final — season in Norman.