(Editor’s note: Sellout Crowd’s coverage of the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas is Sponsored by Modelo – The Official Beer of Fans with the Fighting Spirit (https://www.modelousa.com))
NORMAN — Oklahoma wide receiver Brenen Thompson has wrangled with the questions.
How do you find a home away from a hometown of one stoplight and 3,000 people?
What does it take to sift through 36 scholarship offers and find a place to fit in?
How do you handle broken promises, early let downs and football disappointments?
What do you do when you recognize you’re not where you’re supposed to be?
And how do you cross the Red River and one of college football’s most bitter rivalries, swapping Austin for Norman after one season at Texas?
“He never looked at Oklahoma as a rival team (in the transfer portal),” said Bonnie Thompson, Brenen’s mother. “He looked at it as a program that he could help, that could help him and was the best fit for him on and off the field.”
One more question … What do you do with all that Texas gear?
Brenen Thompson as a Texas Longhorns wide receiver, practicing before a Nov. 5, 2022 game at Kansas State. (Mikala Compton/American-Statesman/USA TODAY Network)
‘He’s just itching’
The last time OU saw Texas, Thompson suited up for the Longhorns and played 16 snaps in the Sooners’ worst defeat in the 118-game history of the series.
A year later Saturday (11 a.m., ABC), he returns to the Cotton Bowl as a potential gamebreaker in OU’s passing attack first, a piece of walking history second.
“It might be a little different,” Thompson said. “But being in this position with these guys? I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
OU historian Mike Brooks believes Thompson might be the fastest player ever to play at OU. Brooks, the primary source for information on the Sooners dating to the 1800s, is certain that Thompson is the 10th player to transfer from Texas into the football program at OU.
Three players did it before Oklahoma even gained statehood. Two more traded places across the 1920s and 1930s. Since World World II, only five have made the Red River switch.
Jack Mitchell, OU’s first All-American quarterback, started his career at Texas in 1941, then played for Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners after his military service.
One OU football historian believes receiver Brenen Thompson, shown here speaking to reporters during media day on Aug. 1, may be the fastest Sooner ever. (Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman / USA TODAY Network)
Monty Johnson broke a multi-generational lineage of OU football players when he signed with the Longhorns in 1967. The ballhawking safety quit football at Texas and enrolled as a student at OU before Chuck Fairbanks pulled him from a fraternity house back to football for 22 starts from 1969-70.
Paul Moriarty began as a Longhorn in 1988 and finished as a Sooner in 1992. The late Du’Vonta Lampkin signed a letter of intent with Texas but spent all three of his college seasons at OU.
Now, there’s Thompson. The speedy wideout meets a familiar Longhorns’ secondary coming off his two-catch, 62-yard Sooners debut in a 50-20 win over Iowa State.
“He’s nowhere close to what we feel like he can be when it’s all said and done,” Brent Venables said this week.
Sidelined by an ankle injury through the first four weeks of the season, Thompson highlighted his first bit of action at OU with a 54-yard, second-quarter reception.
Thompson had a sense early in the week that his number might finally get called. Venables found Bonnie in the crowd as the Sooners walked into the stadium and told her to get ready.
Week 5 delivered Thompson’s initial flash in an OU uniform. Another opportunity waits Saturday in Dallas against the school he once called home and the program he knew he had to leave.
“It’s been two years since Brenen has scored a touchdown,” Bonnie said. “He’s long overdue. He’s just itching.”
Finding a fit
The connections and much of the love the Thompsons developed at Texas remain. So do the frustrations.
“You got into nine games. But did they utilize you correctly in nine games? The answer to that is probably no,” Bonnie said. “I don’t mind telling anybody that because they didn’t. They burned a redshirt that was unnecessary.”
Thompson’s time on the field last fall produced just one catch for 32 yards. The lone season with the Longhorns taught Thompson how to compete. But Spearman, Texas, always felt far away.
About eight hours from Austin and four from Norman, Spearman functions as a tight-knit farm town. It’s a wet city in a dry county. The town of 3,087 is home to J.B. Buchanan’s windmill collection and Texas Tech women’s basketball coach Krista Gerlich.
Texas’ Steve Sarkisian once ran into a problem there when he wanted coffee on a trip to visit Thompson. There’s only one coffee shop in Spearman and it’s closed on Sundays. Thompson’s mom called in a favor to get the coach a cup of joe.
“(It’s a) small town. Farming, hunting, fishing,” said Thompson, who spent his summers on the farm painting sprinkler heads. “One stop light … I would say we were somewhat of a farm family.”
The small town got a big jolt when Thompson emerged within it as a coveted national prospect.
Spearman had never seen an athlete like the one who made varsity as a freshman, played emergency quarterback as a sophomore and made use of his blazing speed to become a two-way playmaker and state champion track star as an upperclassman.
As Thompson’s profile grew, calls started coming from Nick Saban, Lincoln Riley and Mario Cristobal, and the stands at Spearman’s Lynx Stadium got a little more crowded.
“He had all sorts of people in the area come and watch,” Bonnie said. “Everybody in our town knows everybody. When you had strangers sitting in your stands you knew who they’re there to watch.”
Offers poured in from places like Oregon, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma. Yet Texas had the coaching staff and the environment that resonated most with Thompson.
“The only question Brenen really had was how do I, as a small town kid who comes from a hunting background, continue to be who I am and continue to do what I like to do,” Bonnie said.
He ultimately settled on the Longhorns with a pair of assurances. The first came from former Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley.
Like Thompson, Shipley grew up hunting, fishing and living a farm life in a small Texas town. The 2009 All-American convinced Thompson that all of those same home comforts would still be available to him in the nation’s 10th-largest city.
“Jordan was able to tell him it can still be done,” Bonnie said.
The second assurance came from Sarkisian himself.
The option to compete in track and field was an important component in the college experience Thompson envisioned.
It was the first thing the family asked about when Sarkisian called to let them know he was taking the top job at Texas. It’s part of the story of why Thompson is suiting up for the Sooners this weekend, too.
“He said absolutely. I support that 100%,” Bonnie recalled. “So it was never a question to us that there would ever be any kind of non-support going into the track program.”
Spearman’s Brenen Thompson, center, runs ahead of Breckenridge’s Sean Cooksey (5) and Brock’s Cash Jones in the 100-meter dash at the Region I-3A track and field meet Saturday, April 24, 2021, at Abilene Christian’s Elmer Gray Stadium. (Stephen Garcia/Reporter-News via Imagn Content Services)
Home away from home
It didn’t take long for the cracks to start showing last fall.
“I noticed halfway through the season last year something just wasn’t right,” Bonnie said. “He’s not himself. He’s not talking like himself. He’s not smiling like himself. He’s not joking like himself.”
Thompson saw the field in nine of Texas’ 13 games but made little impact. Perhaps for the first time since early childhood, he went a whole hunting season without picking up a rifle. He hardly touched his fishing pole.
Spearman had never felt farther away.
“How can you expect to be yourself on the field if you’re not yourself off the field,” Thompson said.
There was a sense of relief when football season turned over to track and field. Yet even then Thompson struggled for comfort. He was working with Texas’ track and field program, but something had changed in the two-sport understanding Thompson arrived with.
“There was a little bit of resistance from the coaching staff, even though they had said for two years that he could run track,” Bonnie said. “He didn’t really feel too supported.”
“I really think I need to open up my eyes and quit fighting god on this,” she recalled her son telling her. “I really don’t think this is where I’m supposed to be.”
As the walls closed in, Thompson made his move into the transfer portal this spring. No different from his high school recruitment, interest from across the country poured in immediately.
Sooners assistants Jay Valai and Matt Wells were quick to get in touch. Valai had recruited Thompson while at both Texas and Alabama. Wells knew Thompson from his time as Texas Tech’s head coach.
Former OU assistant Cale Gundy was one of the first people to reach out after Thompson’s official visit to Norman in April.
“We had a lot of coaches that had relationships with him and his family through the recruiting process,” Venables said.
Those contacts were the Sooners’ initial imprints on Thompson as searched this time for a place that truly felt like home.
Norman felt closer to a small town. It had a Power Five program to land with and an offense that could maximize Thompson’s speed. Less than 300 miles from Spearman, it offered to all the hunting and fishing Thompson had missed in Austin.
“I think this is the place for me,” he told his mom shortly before committing to the Sooners on April 24.
‘A true family’
That feeling Thompson sensed in the spring has been reinforced in the five months since.
After logging his first two catches for OU, Thompson was asked how the program fit his persona.
“It’s been nothing but love here,” he said. “It’s been a true family.”
All those questions that hovered over Thompson? They’ve been answered.
“(This move) has just been an absolute blessing for him,” Bonnie said. “He’s back to the kid that I knew in high school.”
All the questions but one, of course. What do you do with a closet full of Texas gear after your son transfers to OU?
“I have a friend in town who graduated from Texas and owns a business here. Every time I pull up to get gas or get my oil changed he parks my car in the back because it has an OU sticker where it once had a Texas sticker,” Bonnie explained. “I was able to pass all my stuff onto his lovely wife.”