Carolina Panthers

Shaq Thompson joins Carolina Panthers with a clear mission: Earn respect

The Carolina Panthers’ first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson meets the press on Friday, May 1, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The Carolina Panthers’ first-round draft pick Shaq Thompson meets the press on Friday, May 1, 2015 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

After the Carolina Panthers drafted Shaq Thompson Thursday night, he spoke with linebacker Thomas Davis by phone.

Davis told the newest Panthers outside linebacker that he’d offer advice anytime he was asked. But Thompson already knew one thing without Davis telling him.

“I was talking to Thomas Davis and I said, ‘I have to come in here and earn you guy’s respect. I got to respect all the vets,’” Thompson said. “He was like, ‘Yeah.’

“That’s what I’m going to do. That’s the kind of person I am. I’m going to come in here, work hard and get their trust and respect.”

An understated Thompson visited with Panthers coaches Friday, the day after Carolina selected him with the 25th pick in the draft. His message to members of the Charlotte media was the same as the one he gave to Davis the night before, and his repetition added to his sincerity.

Perhaps it’s Thompson’s humble beginnings – or his humbling on the baseball diamond – that contributed to his demeanor.

Thompson grew up in Sacramento with a single mother and three older brothers. They didn’t have much growing up, and Thompson wrote in a draft diary earlier this year that he and his brothers would sometimes go to their neighbor’s house to get hot water for showers.

He lived with his godparents from sixth to eighth grade, and then moved back with his mother and grandmother for high school.

Thompson said Friday he still hasn’t figured out what he’ll buy his mother with his new rookie contract, which is for four years and worth $7.97 million.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet what I’m going to get her,” Thompson said. “When the time comes we’ll talk about that. It’s not about the money. I just want to get with my team and build that bond and trust.”

Thompson’s first love is football, and he always intended to play it in college. But the Red Sox drafted him in the 18th round of the 2012 draft, and he played for the Gulf Coast League affiliate.

He didn’t get a hit in 39 at-bats and struck out 37 times. Thompson was playing off athleticism and talent rather than skill and knowledge of the game.

He’s able to laugh about his forgettable minor league time, but only after he grew from the experience.

Asked what he learned from the baseball experiment, Thompson said “just dealing with failure.”

“A lot of people don’t know how to deal with failure and I had to get through it.” he said. “I had to keep a strong, positive mindset. It just helped me through my freshman year (at Washington), thinking about all the people laughing. It’s just something that motivated me to keep doing well and driving.”

He went to Washington as a safety but switched to linebacker his freshman season. He blossomed his junior year with six touchdowns – two as running back and four on defense – and won the Paul Hornung Award for the most versatile player in the country.

The Panthers want Thompson to play as the weakside linebacker in their 4-3 defense, which will have him covering the backside of the plays as Davis, the strongside linebacker, takes on bigger tight ends.

Thompson plays well in pass coverage but said he knows he still needs to work on shedding blockers. His athleticism could be enhanced by the Panthers and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott getting creative with the scheme.

Still, many experts had Thompson rated as a second-round talent – a man without a position. For some players that would add fuel to their fire. It’d be bulletin board material to prove the doubters wrong.

Not for Thompson.

“No, I really don’t care,” said Thompson, just as calm as he had been in his 15 minutes with the media. “I just want to get here and play with my teammates, my new team, and get right in it, work hard, get respect and keep grinding.”

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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