Offensive lineman Tyson Thompson has endured a fair amount of tribulations during his football career. But every time a metaphorical wall was put in front of him, he smashed it down in pursuit of gridiron greatness.
Thompson comes from a football background. Relatives on both sides of his family have played at the university level in the past, with his Uncle Jake Vaughan and grandpa Kaye Vaughan both suiting up in the CFL. With this in mind it’s not surprising that the Squamish, B.C. native decided to take up the sport.
Despite his passion for the game, Thompson struggled to gain interest from university programs during his high school career at Howe Sound Secondary. This wasn’t for a lack of talent, but simply because he played in the smallest division of BC high school football.
“Being at a smaller high school, it was definitely harder to get exposure,” he says. “Just from the competition that I played against, I think I was a raw player with a lot of potential.”
In February of his senior year, Thompson’s university dreams inched closer to reality, thanks to a strong showing at a combine that was attended by scouts from UBC and Simon Fraser. Both schools wanted him, but academic issues interfered.
“For me, I had to upgrade courses to get into UBC or SFU,” Thompson says. “Both coaches at those programs wanted me to play junior and upgrade my courses so I could come the following year.”
Thompson was 17 at the time, and the idea of playing junior football while also working, going to school and living independently sounded daunting, so he decided to pass on both schools.
All was not lost though, as Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec was also interested in his services. His dad and uncle had both previously played at the school, and his mom’s side of the family also lived out east, so there was a strong family connection. Because of a difference in entrance requirements, Thompson was able to successfully enrol and became a member of the football team for the 2013 season.
Rollercoaster ride at Bishop’s
Thompson’s first year was filled with ups and downs. He experienced a “big culture shock” at first, and had to grow up pretty quickly because he was living on his own. On the field though, Bishop’s had a winning season and also hosted a playoff game. The team was filled with senior players who helped Thompson adjust to university-level play.
Thompson was ambitious entering his second year, based on the success of the season prior. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, as the team struggled and he didn’t end up dressing until late in the campaign.
“I came in a little bit cocky from my first year because I started to dress at the end of the year and I thought I was going to just walk on to the field and be the guy in my second year, but that wasn’t the case.”
Thompson’s fortunes went from bad to worse following the 2014 season, as he re-aggravated a back injury that was eventually diagnosed as three herniated discs.
“The process of rehabbing from that injury was pretty long,” he says. “I got diagnosed with the injury in January of 2015, and I wasn’t able to start lifting and running again until June, so it was almost a six month rehab just to do regular stuff again.”
Going into his third year, Thompson was still having sciatic nerve pain down the left side of his leg and foot. He didn’t feel like his body was where it needed to be in order to compete at his best, so he sat out the 2015 season. By the end of the semester, Thompson was looking at other options, as he didn’t feel that the nonchalant culture in the locker room was changing.
After mulling over his options, he decided to return to BC to play junior football. His decision was rooted primarily with the notion that he’d be able to get more snaps and also gain confidence coming off of his injury.
Thompson had interest from a few different programs, but settled on the Westshore Rebels for the 2016 season. His choice was heavily influenced by defensive co-ordinator Shane Beatty’s move to the Rebels from Okanagan in the offseason. Beatty had previously helped CFL draft pick and former Okanagan sun defender Dexter Janke get back to a high level of play after three different tears to his ACL, and Thompson felt he could benefit from Beatty’s knowledge.
“The main reason I wanted to play for [coach Beatty] is because he had a strong reputation for helping players train in the weight room and rehab,” Thompson says.
“Just coming off of the injury I had, I really felt that this was going to be the coach that could change my circumstances and get me back at a level on the playing field that I felt good at.”
‘Culture of accountability’ with the Rebels
When Thompson arrived at Westshore, he noticed an immediate shift in intensity compared to Bishop’s, as there was a “culture of accountability” instilled in every player.
“I remember showing up and we had 50 guys working out together five days of the week from April until the beginning of the season in July,” he says.
“Right there, that really brought the team super close together and created that culture that everybody has to put in the same amount of work if we want to be willing to win.”
On the field, Thompson was able to thrive, thanks to intense physical training and a rejuvenated attitude. He started every game, as the Rebels went from two wins the year prior, to eight wins and a trip to the national championship.
“The competition we faced in practice each week was probably more challenging than the games,” he says.
“I think that’s what really got us prepared and why we were so successful. By the time game time rolled around we had already seen the worst, so we were a confident group going into each game.”
In 2017, Thompson took his game a step further, earning a conference all-star selection as the Rebels went 9-1 in the regular season before getting upset in the playoffs.
“I felt like I was really able to dominate my opponent in certain circumstances on the field, and I felt like I played at a much higher level than I did in my first year,” he says.
When the year ended, Thompson knew it was time to return to school. He has two years of eligibility left, and wanted to finish what he started on the field while also completing his degree.
He sent his film out to a bunch of coaches, one of which was Manitoba’s Brian Dobie. The two had a few phone calls and Thompson also came on a visit. He liked what he saw and committed to the squad in early January. He’ll be joining former Westshore teammates Scott Borden Jr., Kent Hicks and Jamel Lyles, and has his sights set on a Vanier Cup.
“This year I was able to start reaching my full potential and start turning into the player I’ve always wanted to be,” he says. “Hopefully I can continue to do that over the next two years.”