Player Profile: Cole Thompson More than just that guy in the ads.
By John Weaver
One of the nation's most sought after recruits, T. Coleman Thompson, ended the suspense today and announced that he had signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Virginia. Thompson, the 18 year old midfielder phenom is very web savvy and participates in online chats and discussions as a hobby. He volunteered to be a topical expert on a lacrosse stick manufacturer's bulletin board where he helps mostly beginners who have lacrosse questions. He turned the tables this year and asked the readers of the Brine site to help him choose his school. "Tons of people voted", says Thompson, "but I actually made the decision myself. Coincidentally the voters picked Virginia, but I had picked Virginia in a close race with Syracuse before I knew how they voted."
Cole gets plenty of advice from other sources too. "I got a lot of e-mails telling me where to go when a recruiting letter I got was used in a magazine ad and that was fun, even though I did get razzed by some opponents this year calling me "hollywood" or "blue chip". It was all fun and we usually beat them anyway. I know most of those guys from football too."
Cole, like so many heavily recruited lacrosse players these days, starred in two sports for the Spartans. In 2002, his 3rd ranked team overachieved, winning the regional championship but they could not repeat the State championship they captured in 2001. Thompson has been the starting quarterback for three seasons, "Football was my sport. Even up 'til last winter, I thought I'd go to college to play football. But at the time that I would have gotten calls from Joe Paterno or maybe Bobby Bowden, I was getting calls instead from coaches at much smaller programs. Size is so important in football and I'm not a small guy. You just have to be huge to play quarterback at a major college program."
Spend a week in LAX NIRVANA this Summer. June 26-July 5 at Towson University
But all was not lost in the Thompson home, as some surprising calls and letters came in that had nothing to do with football, "All of the sudden, I am getting letters from 'the Joe Paternos of lacrosse', John Desko and Dom Starsia. I got mail from like fifteen schools all saying they saw me at some camp or last season in the State playoffs. John Haus invited me to visit North Carolina. North Carolina! I mean I was wearing North Carolina hats and stuff when I was a kid and now I'm getting recruited by them."
The flurry of attention had a short adverse effect on Thompson. "I actually lost my concentration on grades for a few weeks while all this was starting because I was just so excited. It took me the rest of the semester to get my grades back up to my usual average. I mean, the first question the coaches ask at schools like Carolina are what your grades are. If you can't get in, they don't recruit you. So I got a rude awakening. I had Duke and Notre Dame as possible choices, so I knew I needed to work harder in my classes than I did even on the lacrosse field until the day I graduated."
"The coaches really liked that goal oriented mentality evident in Cole as he achieved different things in camps and on the field here each season, but more importantly, in the classroom," says Cole's lacrosse coach and guidance counselor James McDoer. "He really hit the books for those last two years. The top guys have to. Lacrosse doesn't have many scholarships available to attend bad schools. In fact, we have a few kids now that Cole is pressuring to work harder on and off the field because of his newfound fame as a top recruit. Everyone here kinda wants to be Cole now. It's like that "Be like Mike" thing. It's good though, because everyone has seen how hard he's worked for it and if they want similar success, they may just work that hard too."
Starsia likes all those things about Cole and more, "We feel like the guys capable of playing at this level are the best athletes at their high schools so it's likely that they have played multiple sports. Also the two or sometimes three sport athletes are very competitive. These guys have a really hard time standing on the sidelines while some other season is going on. Cole's not a sideline guy. And he's a good student. You need basically an 1180 on your SAT and a B+ average and Cole easily qualified. He works hard at it and he's a smart kid. He's excited to come to Virginia for both lacrosse and academics and we like that type of kid too."
Another thing Starsia liked about Cole and one of the major reasons Cole says that he chose Virginia was that Cole only started playing in the 8th grade. "Coach Starsia did not play lacrosse until his freshman year of college! I just related to that so well. I know he knows the game as well as any coach now, but he'll understand where I'm coming from not being born with a stick in my hand like most of the guys in college." Starsia thinks of Cole's relative inexperience as an attribute, "Cole's got a fresh sense of the game. He's still extremely stimulated by the sport and reminds me of Doug Knight in that way. He came to the sport late and did things a bit differently than others but very well. There's always plenty of time for a great athlete to get better at the skills of the game if they start in 8th or 9th grade. Lacrosse is also a sport where an outstanding athlete can almost always make a sophisticated impact on a game, even if in small places. But Cole is as skilled as any kid with ten years of experience. He's gifted and has outstanding potential to play at this level and dramatically influence our program."
The speculation that an offense with perhaps the fastest midfielder in the game getting the ball down to the lightning fast attackman John Christmas on a fast break will be unstoppable has already begun in Charlottesville. Cole has won 86% of the Spartans' face-offs this season so those breaks may be commonplace for the Cavs in 2004.
Everyone recruited Thompson and most thought he'd go to Syracuse. The decision today is a coup for Virginia. Starsia likes the competition but is glad he won this one. "It gives me great confidence in my own evaluation when I find that a program is competing for a player I want. I have great respect for John Desko and feel I'm doing something right if he wants the same kid that we do. It verifies our own evaluation process." Starsia and Desko have crossed paths many times, most recently for Philadelphia high school star and summer camp legend Johnny Christmas. They go about 50/50 on the big blue chip guys but the signing by Thompson while Christmas and Ward are still at Virginia may tip the scales to Virginia if Cole produces as most predict he will.
Cole had been on the radar of many lax recruiters since a few camps in the summer of 2001 when he shone among mostly older and bigger kids. As he got taller, bigger and stronger, the interest in the ambidextrous shooter grew. Long Island Camp director Victor Ballogia says everyone was blown away by the indifference Cole showed to which hand he used. He would just catch the ball and go either way with no variance or set-up whatsoever. He drills 15 yard shots into the corners with both hands and has shoulder fakes he can use on the run that totally throw off the goalkeepers. He fakes like the indoor guys do, with his eyes and body, not with the stick. I don't think I've ever seen him get stripped. He protects the stick very well and is deceptive with it. And when he lets it rip, he's extremely accurate shooting and passing."
Thompson credits ignorance for his even-handed play, "I didn't know which hand you were supposed to throw with and both felt equally foreign at first. I played against a wall and with my sister in the yard for at least a year before I ever played a real game. By that time I could throw catch and even had a weak but accurate shot with both hands. When people tell me how hard it is to learn to play with the off hand after years of favoring the other, I laugh, because I avoided that by being ignorant. Maybe everyone should learn both at the same time when they start, if it's really necessary to have both hands to play in college, which is what I hear."
The extreme accuracy exhibited by Cole is likely attributed to a strange but effective game he and his sister invented, "We used to play this game where we would run through the woods near our house throwing the balls at trees of all sizes and having to catch them off the rounded and uneven surfaces and keep running, throwing it at the next tree and so on. We got to the point where we could go for ten or fifteen minutes before someone missed a tree, dropped a ball or stopped running. You have to get good at that game quickly or you chase lots of balls."
Thompson's shot is no longer weak, to say the least. At a summer tournament he clocked faster than two pro players and came in second to Tim Soudan of the Rochester Knighthawks and Rattlers with a 102 mph speed. A recent post on an Internet bulletin board said that he had shot 120, but it was a still impressive 102. Soudan clocked 104. But even Soudan was blown away as Cole hit 102 with each hand and around 85 behind the back, with each hand. Soudan, one of the games best pure shooters, thinks Thompson will be in the pros once he's done at Virginia. But that was standing still and Thompson's real gift is his speed and ability to shoot on the run without losing a step and with tremendous accuracy and velocity.
Cole took this picture at Virginia
As a freshman, Cole won three events at the State finals in Track. "I didn't really know what sports I wanted to play in high school other than football, so I thought track was cool because there were different events, but the most important thing was that I realized that year that I was faster than most of the other kids. It gave me the confidence to convert my yard lax with Sarah [his sister] into actually trying out for real lacrosse. I barely made the team."
"The kid's very modest" Insists McDoer, "In that first tryout, he missed the cage by three inches on ten straight shots, all at a full run after dodging someone out of their shorts. And the ball just whizzed out of his stick from a perfectly extended shooting motion. He had the hardest shot on the team but did not score. The goalie's stick came out of his hands once making a save that was off cage. He probably left the field thinking he had to do better to make the team and the coaching staff left the field, each with his name triple underlined on our clipboards. He was the first kid to make that team, not the last. And his inaccuracy that day, we found, was because that was the very first time he'd ever had a pair of gloves on, worn a helmet or shot on a real goal.
His accuracy improved quickly as he got used to the gloves. He lives with the gloves on now. We'll see him off-season running laps on the track wearing lacrosse gloves. It's almost bizarre. But once he got his shot on cage he was deadly. And he shoots real hard. We've spent over a thousand dollars replacing nets that Cole has destroyed. I think that we've lost out on maybe ten goals in his career from balls that ripped the net and went through with no change of speed. Once, we had two goals stacked and chained together on a field and a few of the guys got to the practice before any of the staff. Just shooting around, Cole ripped a shot through both nets and lost the ball. When my assistant showed up, over fifty students, mostly from the Lower School, had gathered at the spot in amazement. That's when he got the nickname "ripper". That was later changed to "The Lazer" after a local newspaper called him that and it just caught on with the kids."
McDoer verified one of the "Cole Thompson Urban Legends" and added more to the story than we'd heard. "Two of our goals this season came when Cole's shot took the keepers stick into the cage with the ball. Once the whole stick just came out of the Goalie's hands and went in the goal. The other time the Goalie's head actually snapped at the neck and the pocket with the ball landed in the goal while the keeper stood in sound fundamental position with a shaft in his hands. The refs took ten minutes to call that one a goal. He's ripped our keeper's pocket mesh 3 or 4 times in practices. If we played in a stronger lacrosse area, he'd be a household word in the circles of the game. He will be anyway next year, once the nation gets to see his game. E-Lacrosse should cover our State championship game this year."
Cole meets John Desko. Dad snaps a picture.
Top player profiler and recruiting guru Franz Fleishman agrees. Fleishman, who owns FourSticks Recruiting Service and is the publisher of High School Lacrosse America, a high school season preview annual, spends his days driving to far corners of the high school lacrosse world to watch and review thousands of athletes. He admits that he's never seen a kid like Cole Thompson. "He has two totally equal cannons, left and right. That makes him so dangerous at center midfield. He's a great face-off guy. Cole is super fast with an advanced and unique understanding of fast break scenarios that guys who've never crossed that midfield line at his speed could ever have. The game seems like great hockey when he's coming down the field with the ball. He's almost always alone when he reaches the midfield line. He is extremely valuable and creates an unsettled situation for four quarters basically."
Cole checks out Championship trophies at Syracuse
Fleishman likes Cole's versatility too, "He's on extra man offensive and man-down defensive units. He had more takeaways than any defenseman in the country as a junior. I just haven't seen his stats this year but I know he's gotten better if that's possible. He will make an impact immediately at Virginia if he adjusts to college well. Some stars take a year to develop with all the new stimuli at college but Cole seems to be a mature kid. And Dom [Starsia] isn't afraid to play a freshman if it is merited. I think Thompson will be a big star as a freshman, like John Christmas and Matt Ward. Virginia may be dynasty bound. I can't remember when a recruit was so fought over. He's worth a few points on the board right away and everyone knew it. I think his last choices were between Syracuse and Virginia, but could have gone anywhere."
UVA and Syracuse were on Cole's "short list" narrowed down from a list that included Notre Dame, North Carolina, Hofstra, and a few Ivy League schools. "I want to be a writer or a lawyer and I took that into consideration when deciding. Syracuse is the best for journalism and pre-law at Virginia is awesome. It was a hard decision. I finally chose Virginia, partially because of a bond I could feel with Coach Starsia, maybe from me not playing for so long and him starting late himself, and wanting to be a bit farther from home than Syracuse. My dad says I just want to get as far away from the family house as I can so he has to let me get my own car. I think he wanted me to pick the closer school with gas prices where they are. My mom and dad and Sarah will come to all the games and it's a long trip to Virginia. He was very happy that I got a scholarship though! He always used to joke about saving up for me to go to community college."
Cole's father was a high school football star himself, in Nebraska and did not know what a lacrosse stick was until Cole bought an old Brine Edge for 20 bucks from a used sporting goods store five years ago. "He hasn't missed a game in four years though. He's my biggest fan. We sat down and decided what type of environment I preferred and what schools offered the courses and programs that I wanted to pursue. We decided to visit Hofstra, Syracuse and North Carolina. On the way back from a great visit at North Carolina we stopped in Charlottesville, Virginia just to check out the place and I fell in love with the campus and the town and maybe three of the girls I saw. My Dad wants me to pick lawyer over writer as a career choice, so he liked the idea of Virginia if I was going to be so far away anyway."
"I'm excited to start college but I'm a little nervous." Cole admits humbly, "I'm rooming with another lacrosse freshman so that's cool, but I can't take Jack, my dog. Sophomore year I'm gonna get an off campus apartment so Jack can come down. He's my ball dog."
May 14, 2003
What are you doing this Summer? June 26-July 5 at Towson University