New­some, Thomp­son rec­ol­lect H.S. ri­valry

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS - By Jim Fuller

STORRS » A smile crept across Ja­son Thomp­son’s face as he glanced over his shoul­der and saw his UConn team­mate Ar­keel New­some fin­ish­ing up an­other in­ter­view on me­dia day.

Over the last four years Thomp­son has seen his soft-spo­ken team­mate hold court with the me­dia count­less times and Thomp­son knows that New­some has earned every bit of at­ten­tion he has re­ceived. How­ever, he ad­mits that there was a time when the mere men­tion of New­some’s name irked Thomp­son to no end as New­some set nearly every rush­ing and touch­down scor­ing record in Con­necti­cut high school foot­ball his­tory while lead­ing An­so­nia to three straight state ti­tles.

“In high school we al­ways had this se­cret beef,” Thomp­son said with a laugh. “I didn’t like him be­cause he got all the at­ten­tion, but it has been great. We are good friends, we get along and help each other get bet­ter. It’s been good get­ting to know him and watch him play.”

The team­mates at­tended high schools less than five miles apart. As a se­nior at Shel­ton, Thomp­son was not only the Gaels’ lead­ing rusher but also the leader in re­cep­tions. Thomp­son also had 26 tack­les and went head-to-head with some of the top of­fen­sive play mak­ers in the tal­ent-laden South­ern Con­necti­cut Con­fer­ence. Still, when he looks back he does re­gret not get­ting to chance to lay a big shot on the record-set­ting New­some when his An­so­nia High squad faced the Gaels in an­nual pre­sea­son scrim­mages.

“He never played, I al­ways held that against him,” Thomp­son said. “I was a line­backer in high school and I was al­ways look­ing for­ward to (hit­ting New­some).”

New­some couldn’t help but laugh as he re­vealed that he still has th­ese con­ver­sa­tions with Thomp­son.

“We talk about that, if I played what would have hap­pened, he would have tack­led me,” New­some said.

Th­ese days they are two most ex­pe­ri­enced run­ning backs on UConn’s ros­ter, though they took dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent paths.

New­some got the ball on UCo-

nn’s fifth of­fen­sive play in his first ca­reer game. It was a much longer wait for Thomp­son who came to UConn as a walk-on with no schol­ar­ship of­fers and was given a schol­ar­ship along with fel­low Con­necti­cut na­tives Sean Mari­nan, Will Rishell and Nick Vi­tale in Jan­uary, 2016. When he called his par­ents to let them know, his mother be­gan to cry and his fa­ther pulled off the road to grasp each and every word of one un­for­get­table con­ver­sa­tion. Seven months later his first ca­reer rush­ing at­tempt went for 12 yards in a loss at Hous­ton. Nine days later came his first ca­reer start in front of the home fans at Rentschler Field.

“It was a big step for­ward,” Thomp­son said. “There are some walls that need to be bro­ken. In prac­tice you have to go and be the same guy every day and last year it paid off, I played in the games. There is noth­ing like that feel­ing of get­ting out there in the Rent in front of all of those peo­ple.”

It wasn’t the first time Thomp­son, a red­shirt ju­nior, car­ried the ball at Rentschler Field. In the 2015 spring game, he was UConn’s lead­ing rusher with 47 yards.

“We all grew and he grew too,” New­some said. “It’s great see­ing him progress and he is still get­ting bet­ter. I am happy for him, I am hop­ing he gets his fair share (of car­ries).”

With red­shirt fresh­men Nate Hop­kins and Ja’Ke­vi­ous Vick­ers as well as true fresh­man Kevin Men­sah push­ing to get car­ries, it’s un­cer­tain what Thomp­son’s role will be. How­ever, there’s no doubt that New­some will be a fea­tured back in the UConn of­fense. He is al­ready fifth in UConn his­tory with 4,211 ca­reer all-pur­pose yards. He’s 305 yards shy of be­com­ing the ninth UConn player with at least 2,000 ca­reer rush­ing yards and if he has 19 catches, he will be the first player who was ex­clu­sively a run­ning back to have at least 100 ca­reer re­cep­tions.

“He can make a play when there is no play there,” Thomp­son said. “He is a re­ally spe­cial player for his size. I feel like his size helps him, he hides be­hind line­men, you can’t see him and he is just a spe­cial player.”

UConn coach Randy Ed­sall has said that New­some will not be asked to carry the ball 25-30 times a game. Al­ready ranked third in ca­reer kick­off re­turn yards, New­some should still get plenty of touches.

“It has been great,” New­some said. “There have been ups and downs but ad­ver­sity is good. I think I had a great ex­pe­ri­ence here, not only on the play­ing field but get­ting to know my team­mates, peo­ple at school and in the class­room, I think I learned so much and I think I grew as a per­son.”

MARY SCHWALM - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

UConn run­ning back Ar­keel New­some (22) breaks a tack­leat­tempt by Tu­lane cor­ner­back Parry Nick­er­son (17) on his way to scor­ing a touch­down dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NCAA col­lege foot­ball game in East Hart­ford, Conn., Sat­ur­day, Nov. 26, 2016.

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