As a redshirt freshman in 1987, Charles Thompson, playing for injured starter Jamelle Holieway, quarterbacked Oklahoma to a victory at No. 1-ranked Nebraska, then played in the Sooners' 20-14 Orange Bowl loss to Miami. The next season, Thompson and Holieway split time again, but the sophomore from Lawton seemed destined for greatness.
But in February 1989, Charles Thompson was arrested for selling cocaine, then appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated wearing an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs — a photograph that came to symbolize all the problems with Oklahoma football. Four months after his arrest, legendary coach Barry Switzer resigned, beginning a long, difficult stretch for the historic college football powerhouse.
Charles Thompson spent 17 months in a federal prison for his crime, and wasn't exactly embraced by OU for several years after his arrest. After Stoops became coach in 1999, though, he began spending more time around the program.
He took his youth-league football team — which included 8-year old Kendal Thompson — to several OU practices. Kendal Thompson still cherishes several photographs from the 2000 national championship season with then-OU quarterback Josh Heupel, now his position coach.
Charles Thompson aggressively rebuilt his reputation after his very public demise, speaking openly about his time at Oklahoma and the mistakes that ended it. That candor has included talks with the OU team, and conversations with his three children.
When Kendal Thompson was nine, he read his dad's book, “Down and Dirty: The Life and Crimes of Oklahoma Football.”
“What he learned was that obviously, you can have everything, you can work for something your entire life, and one stupid decision can throw all that away,” Charles Thompson said. “He understood that as great as things are in receiving that scholarship — and that was always his goal — that's only part of the goal. There's a whole lot more to life than that. Football is only used as a tool to help you prepare and become a better man.”
But there are still some Oklahoma football fans who will never forgive Charles Thompson for his role in the Sooners' very public, embarrassing collapse from college football greatness.
That's something he wanted his son to be fully prepared for when he decided to accept OU's scholarship offer.
“We talked about how some fans will always have that thought in the back of their mind,” Charles Thompson said.
Regardless of who emerges from Oklahoma's 2013 quarterback battle, Charles Thompson said his family has been blessed by the whole experience. Still, the former Sooner said he believes Kendal Thompson's rise to the top of OU's depth chart feels like fate.
“No disrespect to the other two,” Charles Thompson said, “but I just feel like this is Kendal's destiny. Not sure why, but my spirit feels at peace in saying that.”