Fear The Thumb: Thompson Football in Rare Air With 5th Title in Their Sights
There aren’t many words that can accurately describe the string of four consecutive state titles for Thompson football.
It’s been a while since ‘Fear the thumb’ was a relevant phrase in the state of Alabama.
That unparalleled feat, coupled with bringing back both quarterbacks from last year and the possibilities are endless. Freeman knows it's a good problem to have.
“You watch film, and it’s, ‘This is guy is doing this thing good, and then this guy is doing this thing good.’” You kind of want to play to the kids’ strengths,” says Freeman. “Put the things we can’t do away and take the things we can really do, let’s do those things.”
The ten-time state champion has always tailored his offense to fit his quarterbacks, enhancing their talents. Senior Zach Sims represents a true dual-threat QB presence while freshman Trent Seaborn is already receiving warranted praise as a top prospect for the 2027 class.
“There was a time when I thought you couldn’t have two quarterbacks, but now, with the way football is, I’m blessed to have two guys who can really play.”
The Warriors reminded everyone in Week 0 the 7A title runs through Alabaster with a big 44-13 win over Opelika in the AHSAA Kickoff Classic.
Seaborn and Sims will be joined in the backfield by one of the best running backs tandems in the state with AJ Green and Michael Dujon. The question marks on offense come in the trenches where the Warriors are replacing four starters along the offensive line.
Center Dylan Marquess returns as the lone starter, the rising junior figures to be a cornerstone both for the line and the quarterbacks he’ll be snapping the ball to. Offensive line coach Trey Clark has been pleased with how Marquess has led his group thus far.
“He’s been fantastic, the leadership, communication, confidence and experience he brings has been invaluable for us as a group. He’s done a great job and I️ can’t wait to see him play.”
KC Walters also received valuable reps last year with Noah Watts injured early on in the season. Clark sees a unit forming around those two.
“They’ve built a great camaraderie, the bond gets stronger every day watching those guys compete and play for each other.”
Thompson loses Korbyn Williams from the wide receiver corps, but seniors Deuce Oliver and Kolby Hearn both bring a veteran mentality to the room. Oliver represented the Warriors at several media events leading up to the season and receivers coach Brad Costanzo has been impressed with Oliver’s development in several areas.
“Deuce is turning out to be an outstanding leader and had probably one of the best offseasons when you look at what he’s done to who he is now.”
Rising sophomore Colben Landrew will also be a player to watch on the outside. A two-sport player, Landrew puts his lengthy 6’3” frame to work on the basketball court as well as the football field and is already making an impact.
“He’s got a chance to be really special. He’s a big, dynamic blocking receiver. I️ don’t think we’ve had a sophomore step in and play considerably since JB Mitchell,” says Costanzo. “I️ think the light bulb has turned on and he could be one of the best we’ve had here.”
On defense, the team is forming a new identity. After posting program highs in sacks (34) and interceptions (25), Shawn Defoor is overhauling the front seven while the secondary should remain elite despite the departures of cornerbacks Tony Mitchell and Jasiah Ward.
“Not only last year but the year before, we’ve lost 17, 18 kids that tremendously affected the game,” says Defoor. “And anytime you have that much turnover you’re going to have some bumps in terms of depth. I️ think our kids have responded as well as can be asked. We’re a little smaller weight-wise, but we’re also faster so hopefully that shows up in different ways.”
Anquon Fegans, also known as “Newboy” by his coaches and teammates, will lead the defense coming off a stellar sophomore campaign where his nine interceptions led all of Class 7A. Jordan Robertson coaches the defensive backs and had a glowing review of the Southern Cal commit.
“He’s a great player that’s made a lot of plays that helped us finish games, but one thing I admire about him is his spirit,” said Robertson. “One of the happiest kids I’ve been around, that’s one of his intangibles he brings to the team.”
Senior Kaleb Harris also returns at safety where he added five more interceptions last year despite missing a few games due to injury. He’s proficient on the back end of the defense, but reminds Robertson of a Mark Barron kind of DB who can also deliver a big hit. His leadership has also been necessary as the defense turns over a new leaf.
“The biggest thing he’s done for the team is bringing other guys along with him. You want to be a leader, but you need your teammates and he’s bringing value to other people. We follow Kaleb’s lead.”
The emergence of Peyton Lewis at safety gives the coaches a lot of freedom to move the chess pieces around as they see fit from week to week. Senior Jaiden Brown and junior Noah Hicks will figure into the cornerback rotation and will need to play big minutes.
The defensive line begins the rebuild on defense. Coach Woodrow Briggs knows the rotation will be different than last year, but he’s looking forward to growing as a coach.
“We’re not as big as we were but we’re faster than we were so it’s gonna be fun,” says Briggs. “As a coach I’ve had to teach things differently this year and I’ve grown. Figuring out ways to get guys in different spots is going to challenge me.”
Caleb Ballard led the Warriors with 10 sacks last year and 16 tackles for loss overall. Briggs believes Ballard can make just as much of an impact this fall.
“I️ think he has a chance to match what he did last year, if not better. It’s a little different because now he’s the focal point instead of Peter, but I️ think we’re going to be able to put him in situations to get him one-on-one and get after it.”
Matthew Heard got his first taste of being a starter last year and is looking to make a big jump in his second year. He’s also taking the responsibility of helping his teammates.
“He’s the leader of group. Him, Ballard and Hayden are our top 3 dogs and we go as they go,” said Briggs. “Heard is going to be effective, he’s still raw experience-wise, but when I️ ask him to do something he does it. It’s a ‘yes sir I’m going to figure out a way to do it.’”
Hayden McDonald had to perform in an emergency situation last year and get his first real varsity reps, but responded well and has vastly improved.
“Hayden is nasty right now. He got thrown in the fire with Elijah going down so he played a lot more than we expected him to,” He’s becoming more savvy now and he’s holding the middle down right now.”
The linebacker unit is also looking to fill some holes, but do-it-all senior LB Jayden Davis is back and focused on making the kind of plays he’s made since his sophomore year.
“He’s our every down guy. His versatility is one of his biggest strengths. He can play in the box, walk him up on the line if we need to or cover people downfield so he’s a weapon and a playmaker. Reminds me a lot of Seth Hampton.”
Caleb Hicks is another senior who has been fighting his time behind talented, college level talents like Hampton, Jake Ivie and Kelby Taylor.
“He’s played behind some guys and now it’s his time. We’re expecting a lot out of him at inside linebacker to be productive. He’s a versatile guy who runs well also.”
Juniors Trent Cheathom and Vini Pires will also factor into the LB rotation depending on the package and situation.
Thompson is in unprecedented territory and, despite losing talented players to college programs across the country each year, Mark Freeman, and his staff continue to evolve and push their players to new levels of excellence.
2023 doesn’t figure to be any different.