New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Staples QB Thompson displays skill, smarts
Although Ryan Thompson always has considered himself a quarterback at heart, he had to wait until his senior year to play the position in a varsity game for Staples High.
When he was a sophomore, Jake Thaw and Jackson Zager were ahead of him. Thompson played wide receiver and defensive back. He wanted to get on the field.
When Thompson was a junior, there was COVID-19. Nobody in Connecticut played football. Nobody got on the CIAC field.
Yet when it came time for
GameTimeCT to choose its 25 state players to watch in 2021, there was Thompson on the list among six quarterbacks.
“It’s hard to say, because I really didn’t do anything at quarterback to put me in there,” Thompson said. “But I do think I belong on
His older brothers Dan and Mike, who push Ryan’s competitive buttons, would love that answer.
Few, if anyone, in the state played better than Thompson in Staples’ drama-filled 27-20 victory over Trumbull on Friday night. The opening game had everything you’d want after 650 days without football. Weather? Pristine. Paul Lane Field? Packed. Trumbull’s Marce Petroccio returned for the first time since leaving after the 2017 season and the coach who led Staples to three state titles was honored pregame video tribute and all.
Trumbull charged back from a late 20-6 hole to tie the game only for Charlie Howard to pick off a tipped pass and return it 73 yards for the winning touchdown with 17 seconds left.
“I told our kids when I was at IMG in Florida, it was No. 1 team in the country vs. No. 2 team, 10,000 people at a junior college football stadium,” Staples coach Adam Behrends said. “I told them that last Friday night was the coolest game I’d ever been a part of and it’s not even close.”
This Friday night brings an even bigger challenge against No. 2 St. Joseph at Lane Field in the GameTimeCT Game of the Week.
Underscoring the drama against Trumbull was Thompson’s play. The Eagles would apply defensive pressure, he’d reverse direction and throw darts on the run. Thompson finished 20-for-33 for 289 yards and two touchdown passes. Another was called back because of a penalty. Those aren’t run up the stats in a lopsided-game numbers. Those are high-pressure, quality-opponent numbers.
“Ryan is one of the most intelligent quarterbacks I’ve been around,” said Behrends, who coached the position at IMG Academy and has been involved in various elite-level camps and combines. “He processes things really well in terms of asking him to go through progressions or reads. He picks it up really quick. If you change a read on him, he doesn’t do it just because you ask him. He understands why.”
Football IQ is one matter. Physical ability is another. Thompson is not the product of elite camps. He is not the product of 12-month quarterback training. At a time when specialization is big and three-sport athletes are usually the province of small-town schools, Thompson is QB, point guard on the Wreckers’ basketball team and a standout lacrosse player.
That ability to escape and throw on the run? What Behrends calls great body control?
“I think that comes from playing three sports,” said Thompson, 5-foot-11, 170 pounds. “In basketball, it’s a lot of quick, agile movements. In lacrosse, it’s a lot of down the line speed and one-cuts. A mix of that helps a lot when you’re playing quarterback.”
That doesn’t mean he didn’t work hard on throwing and arm strength during off-season. He did.
“And once we were able to work with coaches, coach Behrends being a quarterback coach, he’s really able to get in a lot of stuff in a short amount of time,” Thompson said. “Strength of my passes, incorporating more hip movement … the most important thing was off-platform throws out of the pocket. Against Trumbull, I had a lot of throws when I was on the move, in uncomfortable situations. We work on that a bunch in practice.”
The four games Thompson got in last fall as quarterback in a private league with other Fairfield County towns helped with acclimation.
“Understanding what I can and can’t do, if I can run around and be OK,” Thompson said. “Playing freshman quarterback and varsity is so different. I just feel a lot more comfortable this year, especially with the weapons I have and our O-line.”
Nick Armentano, Miles Scarfo, Benji Titlebaum … the Wreckers are at least five deep at wide receiver. The St. Joe’s defensive backfield better be ready for a major challenge.
“I think we have the best receiving corps in the state,”
Thompson said. “It starts with Nick, he’s one of the fastest, most agile, most competitive receivers. And there’s not much of a drop off from him at all. It makes my job a lot easier.”
When Thompson was a wide receiver, his older brother Mike, 20, a defensive back at Wesleyan, would challenge him in one-on-ones, push him competitively. His oldest brother Dan, 21, played quarterback for Staples in Petroccio’s final season.
He’s now a wide receiver at Middlebury and Ryan credits him with developing a next-play mentality.
“I kind of struggled after a mistake or interception,” Thompson said. “I’d let it get in my head. (Dan) impressed on me one play and move on no matter what. He encouraged me, telling me he thinks I’m the best player on the field at all times and I’ve got to know that and be confident. Even though there’s definitely competition who the best brother is, they are always pushing for me to have success.”
A scouting report by Ryan Thompson on Ryan Thompson the basketball player: Not super-fundamental. An athlete who plays basketball. Defends, hustles and make good passes. Not a great shooter. Loves driving, kicking it out for the 3. Will defend opponent’s best player.
And lacrosse? Takes pride in his IQ game. Big assist guy and wing dodges. Can score when needed.
“I wouldn’t be nearly as happy if I played just one sport,” Thompson said. “I get tired, so that one week off between football and basketball I enjoy. After that I’m like I can’t do his all winter. I need to do something. Same for lacrosse. I don’t regret playing three sports. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
And your favorite? “Whatever one I’m currently playing,” he said. “Academically, it’s not as hard as people portray it. You can get grades up during football season like any other season. Time management is big.”
Thompson will play either football or lacrosse in college. He doesn’t know yet. He has been looking at a bunch of different types of lacrosse schools. For football, he’s waiting to see how this fall plays out. More games on video like Friday night obviously will build his resume.
“I don’t have any doubt after the season he’ll have a lot of opportunities to play college football,” Behrends said.
“I’ll be happy playing either sport,” Thompson said.
Who knows? If it’s D-III, he could try both.
There is an undeniable poise with Thompson that befits his position. He talks about how the Wreckers had to make sure they didn’t get too wrapped up in Petroccio’s return, because emotion leads to mistakes.
“It wasn’t like coach P. abandoned us our sophomore year or something like that,” Thompson said. “He left before we got here. It was cool to see the pregame, considering my brothers played for him and they loved him. But we really tried to make it about us, not about a coach we never had.”
He talks about how he and his teammates heard so much about Trumbull’s size and how they never let it faze them.
“Yeah, they were big. They’re also high school kids like us,” Thompson said. “St. Joe’s definitely looks good. We’ll see. We’re psyched to play them.”
Behrends says nothing surprises him about Thompson’s arm or mind anymore.
Well, almost nothing. When Armentano and Scarfo simultaneously cramped and dropped on the same play in third quarter, it looked like Olympic synchronized diving.
“Unbelievable,” Behrends said.
Thompson went over to his coach with a smile and said, “Armentano was overhydrated.”
Behrends thought he was making a joke. He wasn’t.
“I didn’t know it was a real thing,” Behrends said. “They drank so much water there was a lack of sodium. Without Gatorade, not enough electrolytes. Something you learn. Something we’ll clean up.”