‘Things worked out for the best’ for Keytaon Thompson at UVA

keytaon thompson uva unc
UVA QB Keytaon Thompson heads upfield against #15 UNC. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Keytaon Thompson, a summer ago, was preparing to compete for the QB1 job at Virginia after transferring from Mississippi State. Things didn’t go according to plan, as we know now.

“I think things probably worked out for the best,” said Thompson, a four-star QB recruit out of New Orleans, where he racked up more than 10,000 yards of total offense and accounted for 149 touchdowns in his prep career.

Senior year alone, he threw for 3,825 yards and 46 touchdowns and ran for 1,434 yards and 26 TDs.

This before matriculating at Mississippi State, where at the end of his freshman year he led the Bulldogs to an upset of Lamar Jackson-led Louisville in the Taxslayer Bowl, running for three touchdowns in the 31-27 win.

But a coaching change at the end of his freshman year, then another, disrupted his progression, leading to the decision to transfer.

Then upon arriving at UVA, Thompson injured the labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.

It would have been easy to give up.

“Going through the shoulder injury was so tough at this point in my career. I was going through some really tough times,” Thompson told me last week at the 2021 ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte.

He recalls moping around at practice the first couple of days.

“I wasn’t doing anything. I couldn’t throw the football. I was just watching,” Thompson said. “I was like, man, I want to do something, so I kind of started like helping out with the drills, and then I started talking to Coach Mendenhall.”

The rest is history.

Mendenhall left things to offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who built a basic wildcat package around Thompson’s unique skill set, then added to it week to week.

The injury to the throwing shoulder limited what Thompson could do in terms of throwing the football, obviously, which makes what he was able to do running the ball – he averaged 6.0 yards per carry on his 34 rushing attempts – even more impressive.

Thompson also lined up in the slot and at tight end for a total of 102 snaps, catching seven balls on 12 targets for 98 yards and three touchdowns.

Not bad for a guy who hadn’t played receiver since early in his high school career.

You’ve got to think that this year, with the right shoulder fully healed, that Thompson will be exponentially more effective in the wildcat.

You’d also likely expect that Anae, with an offseason to think through how to better use Thompson, might have cooked up some interesting ideas and schemes.

“It’s dangerous. It’s hard to prepare for, I feel like,” starting QB Brennan Armstrong said. “With him being able to do a lot of stuff, him able to hop at quarterback, maybe hop out of quarterback, little things allow that, just hard to prepare for. Different motions with him coming in the backfield, leaving the backfield. Just a lot of stuff that can go on.

“He can to it all. Run, throw, rush, it doesn’t matter,” Armstrong said. “It’s just a hard thing for teams to prepare for. We’re going to use that to the best of our ability to make that hard for teams to prepare for.”

Thompson is ready.

“My coaches are really creative,” Thompson said. “Coach Anae does a great job being innovative, and I feel like I’ve seen some plays that haven’t been run ever in college football, period. It’s going to be a very exciting year, man. I’ve got to say, my coaches are really creative, and it’s going to be exciting.”

Story by Chris Graham

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