LAS VEGAS Boise State offensive coordinator Robert Prince remembers getting a look at Washington nickel Shaq Thompson in the spring of his junior year at Grant Union High in Sacramento, Calif.
He looked like a grown man, Prince said. He looked like an NFL player.
That was 18 months ago.
Now 6-foot-2, 225 pounds and a true freshman in college, Thompson is one of the stars of a stout Huskies defense going into Saturdays MAACO Bowl Las Vegas showdown with No. 20 Boise State.
Thompson earned honorable-mention honors on the All-Pac-12 team. He has started every game and ranks fourth on the team with 66 tackles, tied for first with 8.5 tackles for loss and tied for first with three interceptions.
He helped Washington force 32 turnovers, tied for sixth nationally and one fewer than Boise State.
I thought Shaq had an awesome year, Washington coach Steve Sarkisian told Seattle reporters earlier this month. His playmaking ability is, I think, contagious. He was a big reason that we started to create the turnovers that we were. I couldnt be more impressed with what Shaq did for us. Quite honestly, I was a little surprised he wasnt defensive freshman of the year in our conference.
Thompson also was selected in the 18th round of the baseball draft by the Boston Red Sox last summer. He played rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League, going 0-for-39 with 37 strikeouts and eight walks a sign that his future might be on the gridiron.
Boise State coach Chris Petersen said hes impressed with the physicality and consistency Thompson has shown as a freshman.
Hes a very special guy, Prince said. He can run, he can hit, hes a big guy.
QUICK FIRST HALF FOR BELL
Boise State sophomore nickel Corey Bell, a Capital High grad, will be halfway through his career after Saturdays game. He arrived in summer 2011 and didnt make his college debut until Oct. 15, 2011 just 14 months ago.
Its kind of scary, he said. I cant believe how fast this all goes. It feels like Im still a new guy here and Im already halfway through it.
Bell has started three of the past four games because of an injury to senior Dextrell Simmons. Simmons is expected to play in the bowl game, but Bell likely will see extensive time, too.
Bell has 15 tackles in the past four games. He had 22 in the first eight.
Im just trying to do my job out there, he said. Its nice the defense that were playing in is such an awesome group of guys to be around. Its a group where were all making plays.
He said hes looking forward to the offseason.
Ive got a lot of improvements I can still make, he said. Im actually excited with that because it means theres a lot I can go into the offseason and work on. I think Ive made a lot of improvements since I got here. Im happy with that. Im just looking forward to getting better.
MILLER NEARS MILESTONES
Boise State sophomore wide receiver Matt Miller needs three catches and 1 yard Saturday to set new career highs. He made 62 catches for 679 yards and nine touchdowns last year; he has 60, 679 and five this year.
Id say I was productive moving the chains when I needed to, just doing whatever the coaches asked me to do, he said.
Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is the most direct tie between the two coaching staffs. But there are many other friends and former co-workers involved in this game.
Boise State quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith worked with Washington assistants Joel Thomas and Johnny Nansen at Idaho. Boise State offensive line coach Chris Strausser and defensive line coach Andy Avalos worked with Washington offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau at Colorado. Boise State linebackers coach Bob Gregory worked with Kiesau and Washington defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi at Cal. Petersen and Strausser coached Kiesau at Portland State. And Petersen also was a coach at Oregon when Wilcox and Washington linebackers coach Peter Sirmon played there. Several former high school teammates are on the teams rosters, too.
ANOTHER TRANSFER SIGNS
Defensive tackle Tutulupeatau Deuce Mataele (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) of Mt. San Antonio College in California has signed a letter of intent to join Boise State.
Mataele was a two-year starter. He had offers from Arizona State, Arizona and BYU, Mt. SAC coach Bob Jastrab said.
He did a great job anchoring the defense. Hes very quick. He was a dominant player in our league, Jastrab said.
Mataele is from West Valley, Utah. He is the fourth junior college signee in this class.