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Where are they now?: Darrell Thompson

06/16/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Rob Litt

Where Are They Now?

Bookmark and ShareSimply put, Darrell Thompson is one of the greatest players ever to wear the Maroon and Gold. The dominating running back is the program's all-time rushing leader and is the only Gopher ever to rush for more than 4,000 career yards. Thompson actually surpassed that mark fairly easily, as he ran for 4,654 yards during his decorated four-year career.

The Rochester, Minnesota, native recorded 40 career rushing touchdowns, 23 100-yard rushing games, and is the program's all-time all-purpose yard-gainer with 5,109 rushing and receiving yards.

A two-time team MVP, Thompson was drafted by the Green Bay Packers [editor's note: this is the one blemish on Darrell's resume] in the first round of the 1990 NFL Draft. Thompson had a five-year career with the Packers, where he recorded eight career touchdowns and ran for more than 1,600 yards.

Following his professional football career, Thompson returned to the Twin Cities, where his contribution to the community continued with his involvement with Bolder Options, a mentoring program that uses running and biking to promote positive behavior for first-time offenders ages 10-15 in Hennepin County. Thompson's involvement with this program began as a volunteer when he was in the NFL and turned into a career. He is now the program's executive director.

In addition to his duties at Bolder Options, Thompson is also an active member of the M Club and is a radio analyst on WCCO Radio for Gopher Football. Thompson recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk with about his memories as a Gopher, what he learned from Ray Christensen in the radio booth, and his thoughts on the current program. Where has your post Gopher career taken you?

Darrell Thompson: After my career at Minnesota, I was drafted by the Packers, where I played for a few years. During my time in the NFL I started to volunteer with a program called Bolder Options in the Twin Cities. It is a program that I really believe in and have witnessed remarkable success with the kids that we are working with.

I have also remained very active with the Gopher athletic department with my involvement with the M Club as well as my duties as a radio analyst for WCCO Radio. I have really enjoyed my radio duties. How was it working with Ray Christensen for a few years in the booth?

Thompson: Ray was professional, patient, and prepared. I know that outside of the coaches, no one was more prepared for a game than Ray was. He also had an amazing ability to track every play of every game on a single sheet of paper in a short-hand style that he uniquely developed. It was fun to watch. But more than that though, Ray Christensen is a gentleman. There are not enough people in this world like Ray. We need more people like him. He could remember everyone's name. Whether it was a cheerleader, a parent of a player, or a member of the janitorial service, Ray made everyone feel important. I am fortunate to call him a friend. Thinking back to your days as a Gopher, what games stick out more than others?

Thompson: When I was a freshman, we beat Michigan on a last second Chip Lohmiller field goal. It was on the road, and they were ranked #2 in the nation. As I was walking off the field after that game, I knew it was a special win, but I don't think I realized the magnitude of the win until I got in the locker room and saw tears in the eyes of the seniors. Through the years, this win has continued to grow in significance within the program.

The 1986 Liberty Bowl was also very memorable. At the time I figured we'd play in more than one bowl game during my years at the 'U', but we did not, although we would have if the current format was in place then. What do you enjoy about your involvement with the M Club?

Thompson: It gives me the opportunity to stay in touch with my former teammates and other Gopher athletes. I have developed a special friendship with many athletes from different sports, and it's fun to have the fraternal community. It's also great to raise money and give back to the athletic department. Is there a lesson that you learned from a former Gopher teammate or coach that sticks out more than others?

Thompson: After my freshman season, former Gopher Bobby Bell came and spoke with us. I was feeling pretty good because I had a solid freshman season, but Bobby came and told us that you can never be satisfied with your current situation. He said once we become satisfied, then we become complacent, and then others pass us up. I have taken Bobby's advice throughout my entire football and business career. Do the current Gophers ever seek you out for advice?

Thompson: I have talked with Thomas Tapeh quite a bit throughout his days as a Gopher and now early in his NFL career. The thing I tell the guys who are going on to play professionally is that they must be prepared in the head. In college football we would put in 5-6 new plays in a day, whereas in the NFL you put in 20-25 plays a day and are expected to remember each and every play the very next day. I also warn the guys about the speed of the game in NFL. It's amazing. Sometimes it's hard for the casual fan to see the difference, but when you are on the field, it is incredible. Who was the best player you ever played with?

Thompson: I would have to say Rickey Foggie. He was such an incredible athlete. He still is. He's still playing and doing his thing. He has such a knack for the game and for opposing defenses. I enjoyed playing with him and watching opposing defenses scratch their heads trying to stop him. If you could suit up one more time, who would you play against?

Thompson: I would have to say Ohio State. We never beat them when I was at Minnesota, and I would love to get another shot at them. What are your thoughts on the current state of the program?

Thompson: I love what Coach Mason has done with this program. It is so much fun to be a part of. I am really proud of the level that we are playing at and with the quality of the student-athletes that are going through this program. The depth is starting to come around and that will push us to the next level. Will it be bitter sweet to have guys like Marion Barber III or Laurence Maroney pass you up in the record books?

Thompson: Records are meant to be broken. If they do fall, then that likely means that our program is having great success, and then it is well worth it. I remember when I broke Marion Barber II's records, his wife sent me a little gift congratulating me. That meant a lot to me. I also remember a number of years ago, I was at a dinner party at the Barber's house and Marion Barber III was in either seventh or eight grade, and he came up to me and told me he was going to break my records. He has worked really hard and is starting to put together a career to do just that.

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Tag(s): Where Are They Now?