Thompson a calming influence for No. 8 Sooners

Monday, November 27th 2006, 8:01 pm
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ When Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops dismissed his starting quarterback from the team, he told his players not to go looking for excuses for the upcoming season. What they found instead was a leader.

After Rhett Bomar was kicked off the squad, Stoops asked Paul Thompson to be his new quarterback. And then he told the team to believe in him.

``I felt Paul Thompson would be every bit as good if not better,'' Stoops said on a conference call Monday. ``We told the team immediately, I said: `Now, if you're looking for an excuse or for our expectations to change or that we're not going to have a chance to win the Big 12 South, it will not be because of Paul Thompson.' And I truly meant that.

``Paul is a good football player, a great character guy who's worked hard, has maturity to him. And we felt he would do really well if the guys around him would help him.''

Stoops gives credit to Thompson for an MVP-type performance, leading the eighth-ranked Sooners (10-2, 7-1 Big 12) past early season struggles, controversy and injuries for a berth in the Big 12 football championship game Saturday against No. 19 Nebraska (9-3, 6-2).

``What he's meant to this team and how he's directed it, the calming influence he's been on the offense _ the offense has had most of the changes, with injuries and everything else _ Paul has been the steady force behind it all,'' Stoops said.

``He's been the guy to direct the huddle. He's got maturity to him, and all these young players playing for us really look up to him and get a lot of assurance from Paul.''

Thompson is one of only two seniors on an offense made up mostly of sophomores and freshmen. While he's lingered in the background as a backup to Jason White and Nate Hybl, Thompson has picked up tons of respect _ even after agreeing to move to receiver last season to allow Bomar to develop into Oklahoma's quarterback of the future.

As a fifth-year senior, Thompson hasn't been shaken by his sudden appointment as starting quarterback, a disputed loss at Oregon on a blown call or injuries to Heisman hopeful Adrian Peterson and right tackle Branndon Braxton.

``That's just my personality. It's just kind of how I am. I feel being at the position I'm at, if I show confidence and show no panic, I think that kind of feeds off to everybody else,'' Thompson said. ``If I'm panicking, if I'm uncomfortable, then guys might start to worry a little bit.

``I definitely try to stay more focused and try to help that kind of filter down throughout the team, and I think it does.''

Although Thompson's numbers are good, they don't do his performance justice. He's completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,169 yards and 18 touchdowns, with only seven interceptions. In Big 12 play, he's thrown for less than 100 yards in a game twice _ the same number of times he's thrown for more than 250. They're not exactly White's Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers, but Thompson doesn't have nearly as many players around him who'll soon be off to the NFL.

And he's eliminated any chance he'll go down in history as ``that guy who lost to TCU.''

``He's much more seasoned and sure of himself and what he's doing now and comfortable, and that's just natural. The more time spent on the field and working, the better you're going to become,'' Stoops said. ``I would say definitely he's just much more mature out there and sure of what he's doing.''

It's been that way from the start. Bomar's dismissal came one day before fall camp started, and Thompson made the transition an easy one.

``With the dismissal of Rhett Bomar, it was bad. It was a big blow,'' linebacker Rufus Alexander said. ``But Paul came in and he's done a great job. It's just like he hasn't fell off the bike. He got right back on and started playing quarterback, throwing the ball left and right.''

With this being Thompson's last season, he took the approach that he'd hold nothing back and avoid getting too worried about anything.

``I really haven't put too much pressure on myself and I haven't let other people put pressure on me,'' Thompson said. ``I've kind of been relaxed, just naturally.''

It couldn't have hurt that Stoops gave him that vote of confidence, in front of the whole team, right off the bat. The team got another bit of Stoops' encouragement after the Oregon debacle, and another when Peterson went down with a broken collarbone. Thompson has made sure that message has come through loud and clear.

``He told everybody this isn't an excuse for why we can't continue to win like we've been doing. He made that well-known. People are definitely aware of that,'' Thompson said. ``Regardless of whoever's in there, we're going to win with them.''