Casey Thompson takes the long way home to OU

Casey Thompson takes the long way home to OU

Four seasons at Texas. An injury-marred season at Nebraska. Aninjury-marred year at Florida Atlantic. Now back to OU, ostensibly as Jackson Arnold’s backup.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Jan 12, 2024, 2:00pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Jan 12, 2024, 2:00pm CST

NORMAN — Casey Thompson sent out the tweet — “Dear Oklahoma, I’m coming home!” — at 6 p.m. on Jan. 11.

1-11-6. It was not an accident.

Kendal Thompson, Casey’s older brother, wore No. 1 in his three seasons as an OU quarterback (2011-13).

Casey Thompson will wear No. 11 as a Sooner quarterback in the 2024 season.

Charles Thompson wore No. 6 in his three seasons as an OU quarterback (1986-88).

He sprung that on me, kind of touched me a little bit,” Charles Thompson said Thursday night, a few hours after Casey committed to OU for his seventh college football season.

It’s been a long and winding road that has brought Casey Thompson “home.” Four seasons at Texas. An injury-marred season at Nebraska. Another injury-marred year at Florida Atlantic. Now back to OU, ostensibly as Jackson Arnold’s backup. Thompson figures to be a sensei for a quarterback room that will include Arnold (one year of college experience) and the just-out-of-high-school duo of Michael Hawkins and Brendan Zurbrugg.

No one has any illusions. This will be Arnold’s team, barring injury. But it has to make Brent Venables sleep better at night knowing he’s got a backup who has thrown four touchdowns in the second half of a bowl game (2020 Alamo vs. Colorado), four touchdowns in the first half of Red River (2021) and three touchdowns against Iowa’s vaunted defense (2022).

“There was no guarantee, just an opportunity to be on the team,” Charles said of Casey coming to Norman. “Casey’s focus is to come and help OU be successful in 2024.

“He’s got a lot of knowledge and insight. Not just Casey’s football IQ, I think he’ll be good for the room, and whatever capacity on the field they need.”

Charles Thompson said the family checked in with a few other schools, and looked into Casey joining the spring-season United Football League. But Casey was drawn to OU, where he had considered transferring a couple of other times, despite the Sooners’ never-ending well of quality quarterbacks. Charles said Casey long has felt a Christian-based connection with Venables.

Casey Thompson is not the same quarterback who came out of Newcastle High School and signed with Texas six years ago next month. He played through a severe thumb injury at Texas. A shoulder injury interrupted his lone Nebraska season. A massive knee injury wrecked his Florida Atlantic year.

Charles Thompson said his son still harbors professional football hopes, but Casey will turn 26 years old nine days before the 2024 OU-Texas game. He’s three months younger than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has scored 7,882 NBA points.

Casey Thompson’s tweet offered clues of what seems obvious to many: he’s looking for closure in a wild career that has taken him to some stories places, but not to Owen Field on an autumn Saturday.

“A blessing for me and my family,” Casey tweeted about returning home. “God is good. Get to do what I love, be back home, and enjoy time with family. One last ride with a great program with great support, resources, and a special community. Excited to be back with my church, family, and friends. Can’t ask for anything more. Thank you, God!”

The other Thompsons began their college careers at OU; neither ended in storybook fashion.

Charles’ story you know well. A tremendous wishbone quarterback in the 1980s, playing behind Jamelle Holieway until Holieway’s knee injury in November 1987. Thompson took over and in his second game as the starter quarterbacked OU to victory over Nebraska in Game of the Century II. Those Sooners lost the national championship game 20-14 to Miami in the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes’ home field.

But after sharing time with Holieway in 1988 — Thompson should have been the quarterback all season; Holieway’s damaged knee robbed him of his magic — Thompson was arrested on federal drug charges, part of the rash of scandal that winter that eventually cost Barry Switzer his job.

Charles Thompson served a prison sentence, then began restoring his life and reputation. Over the years, he returned to the good graces of society and OU football.

Kendal Thompson didn’t play his first two seasons as a Sooner — Landry Jones was the OU quarterback — and his only real chance in 2013 came on a frigid day in Bedlam. Thompson replaced the injured Trevor Knight but completed just two of nine passes, Blake Bell rallied the Sooners to victory and Kendal soon enough transferred to Utah.

But the Thompson clan never lost those OU ties.

Thursday night, Kendal Thompson tweeted his support for his little brother: “Proud of you for following your heart back home. It’s a special feeling strapping on that crimson and cream.”

These are strange times. A seven-year college veteran, Alan Bowman, is set to quarterback OSU this season. Now a seventh-year quarterback is joining the Sooners. All possible by the pandemic season of 2020 not counting against anyone’s eligibility, plus an NCAA waiver process that has grown quite lenient.

Oct 29, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Casey Thompson high fives fans as he walks into the stadium before the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Casey Thompson during his Nebraska days and a pregame walk into a 2022 game in Lincoln against Illinois. (Dylan Widger/USA Today Sports)

Utah, too, is scheduled to have a seven-year quarterback, Cameron Rising, who in what seems like forever ago, originally was committed to OU but instead jumped to Texas and joined Casey Thompson in the Longhorns’ 2018 recruiting class. After one year, Rising transferred to, wait for it, Utah. Just as Kendal Thompson did.

You can’t make this stuff up.

But even if you’re turned off by transfer portal madness, and weary of all the events that made seven-year college quarterbacks possible, you have to feel good about the coming-home story of Casey Thompson.

The son of a prodigal Sooner, Casey grew up about 10 miles from Owen Field; his two high schools, Southmoore and Newcastle, are in adjacent school districts to Norman. Casey grew up loving the Sooners.

But he committed to Texas in spring 2017; Charles, then and now, says Casey wanted to play for an offensive head coach, which ruled out OU. Yes, Casey’s Texas commitment came when Bob Stoops was shaving every day. And yes, it sounds squishy, since Stoops’ teams provided some offenses for the ages, but that’s water under the Red River bridge.

When Stoops retired in June 2017 and Lincoln Riley took over, Casey remained committed to the Longhorns.

He sat three years behind UT starter Sam Ehlinger — no one should claim that Casey Thompson doesn’t have patience — and since has been on the odyssey from Texas to Nebraska to FAU to now Oklahoma.

Charles Thompson tells the story that halfway through last season, with Casey into his rehab for the anterior cruciate ligament injury that occurred Sept. 16 at Clemson, Casey shared his hope.

“He said he’d been praying about things,” Charles said. “His vision was, if he was given a seventh year, God was telling him he needed to come home and finish up at OU.”

Table of truth: Charles didn’t like the idea. “I just really wasn’t feeling it, to be honest with you. But he was determined to do it. That’s what he wanted to do.”

Charles said Casey is methodical about the things he wants in his life. Casey seemed to prove that at Texas, where he waited three full years to be the starting quarterback, and who waits three years for anything in modern college football?

Charles tells another story. He was at Clemson that day last September, when Casey was helped into the locker room, then called his dad. Casey was upset, and Charles hurried to get to his son.

And by the time Charles arrived, Casey was in good spirits, despite knowing what the injury meant.

‘’Dad, I’ve been through a lot,” Casey told him. “But everything happens for a reason.”

Was OU the reason? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else except maybe the dreamers and the quarterbacks, who find their way home.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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