LINCOLN, Neb. – Even though Casey Thompson hasn't been named Nebraska's starting quarterback officially, all indications through spring practices point to him taking the first snaps when the Cornhuskers open the season.
“I’m glad I’m on the other end of sitting and waiting my turn,” he said.
Thompson has a clean slate after transferring from Texas, where he started 10 games last year but was unlikely to get the job in 2022. He is now in an environment where statewide passion for the program runs deep but expectations are tempered following five straight losing seasons.
He'll be playing for his third head coach in Scott Frost and fourth offensive coordinator in Mark Whipple, who was hired in December and is adding to Frost's spread system elements of the pro-style game he used with 2021 Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh.
Thompson said the system is aggressive, stretches the field vertically and horizontally and operates at a fast tempo.
“There are a lot of options, so I really like it,” he said. “It’s been fun so far and it’s been easy to grasp.”
Thompson waited three seasons for his chance at Texas and then, after entrenched QB Sam Ehlinger left, he lost a lengthy competition against Hudson Card last year.
Thompson replaced Card in the middle of an ugly Week 2 loss at Arkansas. He shared playing time with Card in some games and played with an thumb injury on his right (throwing) hand, and his hold on the job was a week-to-week proposition.
After a 5-7 season that included a six-game losing streak, Texas' longest in 65 years, coach Steve Sarkisian said he would throw open the quarterback competition for 2022. Thompson decided to leave when five-star recruit Quinn Ewers announced he would transfer to Texas from Ohio State and Sarkisian signed highly rated freshman Maalik Murphy.
Adrian Martinez's transfer to Kansas State created a job opening at Nebraska, and Thompson picked the Huskers after also considering Auburn and Oklahoma.
“I really love it here," Thompson said. "I enjoy the fan base. I enjoy the team. I enjoy it that everyone here just loves football. There are good people in Nebraska and here in Lincoln."
Thompson's first task was to establish his leadership. He didn't rush things. He laid back and observed the first week or two he was in Lincoln and built relationships off the field.
Thompson said he took the offensive linemen to dinner and got together with the receivers to throw passes and look at film. Omar Manning, Oliver Martin, Alante Brown and LSU transfer Trey Palmer have impressed him.
“We have enough talent and pieces in place to win ball games and compete at a high level, so that’s why I decided to come here,” he said.
Thompson also has familiarity with Nebraska through his father, Charles Thompson, who quarterbacked Oklahoma at the height of the schools' rivalry. Charles Thompson led OU to a 17-7 win over a top-ranked Nebraska in Lincoln in 1987. The Sooners lost 7-3 the next year in Norman, with Thompson breaking his leg late in the game.
Casey Thompson set an Oklahoma high school record for total offense and was a four-star recruit pursued by Alabama, Oregon and OU, along with Texas and others. Casey's older brother, Kendal, was an OU quarterback from 2011-13 and finished his career at Utah.
Casey said Texas just felt right, but that changed as he found himself repeating the cycle of one step forward, one step back.
Before he settled on Nebraska, he called Martinez to find out what he was walking into in Lincoln.
“He had nothing but great things to say about the program, the team and the state of Nebraska,” Thompson said. “He said it was just time for him to move on and I understood that. He said there are highs and lows. But, honestly, I just came from the University of Texas and I grew up around the University of Oklahoma, so I’m kind of used to the big-time football programs and being around that type of football and those types of fan bases.”
Still, Thompson said he's surprised how big a deal football is in the state. Because of that, he said, the pool of name, image and likeness opportunities runs deep. He landed a deal with athletic apparel company Soldier Sports a couple of weeks after his arrival.
“The community here is more close-knit and everyone is kind of in the know,” Thompson said. “Austin, Texas, is more spread out. It’s a big city. Here in Nebraska, if I go to a restaurant or go to a local high school basketball game or to the gym down the street to get some lifts in on the weekend, I’m going to end up getting stopped and having to take pictures and stuff like that.”
Thompson said he enjoys his celebrity and is cognizant of maintaining a positive image.
“When I wake up and decide to leave my house and go to a restaurant or any public place, I kind of have to make sure I’m presentable and have to watch who I’m with and what I’m saying,” he said.
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