Toledo's Cody Thompson scores a touchdown against Fresno State during a game last season. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
With the strains of AC/DC rattling walls covered in energizing old quotes — “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer” — the Toledo football team reported to its decidedly above-ground weight room at 6 a.m. Thursday.
The daily dawn workouts are a rite of summer, same as the fresh supply of optimism.
“Don’t get bitter,” reads the back of the players’ shirts. “Just get better.”
They are words to live by for a door-knocking Rockets program striving to become the team of its time in the Mid-American Conference.
And, for their most unlikely star, something a little more.
Four years ago, Cody Thompson, then a lightly heralded dual-threat quarterback from Huron, Ohio, did not choose to play for the Rockets so much as they chose him.
“You didn’t have any other offers in high school?” Toledo strength coach Brad Bichey disbelievingly asked the former no-star prospect this week.
Now look at him, and not just because Sports Illustrated named Thompson to its 2017 Freaks Team — a tribute to the top workout warriors in college football.
In addition to that 365-pound bench press and 37-inch vertical leap, he is an Academic All-American nominee with a 3.7 GPA, volunteers at the Cherry Street Mission and Ronald McDonald House among other charities, and is one of the most explosive receivers in the country. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior caught 64 passes for a school-record 1,269 yards last year and is on all manner of award watch lists for this fall.
Later this month, Thompson will represent the Rockets alongside one of his best friends, quarterback Logan Woodside, at the MAC media day in Canton.
He’s pretty much the perfect student-athlete, no?
For a guy who instinctively deflects credit to his teammates and coaches, I might as well have asked if his favorite colors were orange and brown.
“No, I’m not the perfect student or player,” he said Thursday. “I’ve just always believed if you’re going to do something and you’re going to spend your time doing it, give everything you’ve got, because you don’t get second chances.”
“You’re wasting your time, and the time of the guys around you, if you don’t give it everything you have every day.”
Which was, well, the perfect answer.
If there are athletes who give and receive more to and from the college experience, we’d like to meet them.
Thompson’s well-documented rise should truly surprise only if you do not know him. Woodside allows his buddy is not absent his flaws, recalling that one time Thompson took their pitch-and-catch battery connection a little too literally.
To make a nonstory short, Thompson tried to put a third-grade science trick into action and jolt his quarterback’s tongue with a D battery. “He likes to pick on me,” Woodside said, smiling.
Thompson otherwise sets the example, from his willing full-time summer gig — “football all day long,” he said — to the classroom, to the community. He was named this week to the Allstate Good Works Team for his assists across town, where he has also worked with the Boys & Girls Club and the Toledo Crash wheelchair football team.
“One of the big things I love is being around kids,” said Thompson, who will complete his marketing degree in 3½ years in December.
“Some of these kids don’t have it the best all the time, so just getting out there and getting their minds off of things and having fun with them, teaching them lessons about how important school is, it’s really rewarding. I remember when I was little, any athlete I thought it was like walking up to LeBron James.”
Of course, Thompson is not any athlete.
Grateful for his opportunity with the Rockets, he continues to choose the better over the bitter. He appreciates as well as anybody the road to Detroit, and a coveted MAC championship does not pass through Easy Street.
“He just shows up every day to go to work,” Bichey said. “He’s not a guy who’s going to pound his chest and say, ‘Look at me, I’m setting the world on fire.’ He’s just going to go out there and continue to do what he’s done, and that’s prove people wrong.”
Thompson UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO