Willie Gay, Jr., and redshirt freshman Erroll Thompson keep impressing for MSU. They're grabbing the attention of everyone, from fans, to coaches, to teammates.
“Both of those guys have become more comfortable,” State junior linebacker Gerri Green said of Gay and Thompson. “They both go out there and play with instinct. As they start to understand the scheme more and more and understand what they're doing, they're making more and more plays.”
No matter how big the stage has been, both
Thompson and Gay are proving at a young age that they are up for it. Against Alabama, Thompson had five tackles, including his first career sack when he brought down Tide quarterback Jalen Hurts late in the fourth quarter. Gay also recorded a tackle against Alabama. He has recorded at least one tackle in seven of 10 games for the Bulldogs this season, has multiple tackles in four contests and even has a pair of pass break ups on his short resume.
Such playmaking ability has MSU defensive coordinator Todd Grantham excited to see what's next in the careers of Thompson and Gay.
“You look at that Alabama game and both of those guys are in there in the second half battling,” Grantham said. “You're seeing both of those guys get better every week. That part of it is fun (to see and coach). I think both of them have a bright future here with what we're doing and we'll continue to develop those guys.”
It's a good thing for the Bulldogs that Thompson and Gay are looking like blossoming stars early in their careers. Grantham relies on playing several guys on defense to keep players as fresh as possible. Thompson and Gay allow Grantham to turn to them with very little,
if any, drop-off from the starters. Grantham insists it all has revolved around Gay and Thompson maintaining their focus, whether they are on the field or on the sidelines.
“Both (Thompson and Gay) have been very good at staying in the game when they're not in the game,” Grantham said. “They know what's going to happen when they get in the game and their number is called.”
This Saturday at Arkansas, there's a chance MSU might depend on its youth at linebacker more than ever. Senior linebacker Dez Harris could possibly miss this weekend's game after suffering a leg injury against Alabama.
If that happens, Thompson's role will likely increase and he'll become one of the quarterbacks of the defense as he makes the defensive calls.
It's nothing Thompson hasn't done before. Earlier this season, at Texas A&M, Harris was banged up and Thompson stepped in and played more than 50 snaps. He's ready to go should that be needed again.
“I feel like I've been growing week to week and at this point, I'm as confident as I've been in the scheme, making the calls and everything else,” Thompson said.
Gay is prepared to pull his share of the load at Arkansas too.
“We're ready,” Gay said. “I believe the coaches trust us and we work every single day to show them that if we get put in, we won't mess things up.”
There are still sure to be growing pains for Gay and Thompson, but it's almost indisputable that the future of the linebacker position at MSU is in good hands. As Green gets into the latter stages of his own collegiate career, he's confident in saying the sky is the limit for his two proteges.
“Their ceilings are high,” Green said. “It's as high as they want it to be. They're still young and getting their feet wet, but if they keep working hard, it's super high.”