Former SFA standout prepares to play in Super Bowl XLIII

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When BJ Thompson exits the tunnel and views a packed house inside Allegiant Stadium ahead of his Kansas City Chiefs battle against the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII, he'll join an elite list of former Stephen F. Austin football players.

The England, Ark. native will be the eighth Lumberjack to appear in a Super Bowl.

The list includes Leo Araguz, Larry Centers, John Franklin-Myers, Terrance Shaw, Jeremiah Trotter, Mark Mosely, and David Whitmore. Four players (Centers, Shaw, Moseley, and Whitmore) left the field as world champions.

Thompson’s path to the NFL began when he arrived at Baylor as a 4-star athlete initially projected to play tight end. The Bears head coach at the time was Matt Rhule, who saw Thompson's natural abilities. However, he knew Thompson needed more playing time to reach his potential, so he approached his friend and SFA head coach Colby Carthel at THSCA Coaching School, inquiring whether the ‘Jacks had a scholarship available for Thompson.

“I said, ‘Coach Rhule, I’ve always got a scholarship available. Who you got,” Carthel recalls. “He told me about Thompson and how he’s a great player and a good soul. He told me he’s undersized right now, but he has the skills to play on Sunday. (Rhule) was dead on accurate.”

Undersized is one way to describe Thompson, who was listed at 6-foot-7 and 205 pounds at Baylor. Or, as Carthel exclaimed when I mentioned his weight, “Yeah if he had just eaten out and was soaking wet.” Thompson's athleticism was on disply when we won a slam dunk contest between members of the football team at halftime of a Baylor basketball game in 2018.

Thompson was forced to redshirt for the 2019 season due to the rules placed on transfers by the NCAA before the pandemic, which allowed him to gain muscle. Gaining weight was a more significant challenge for someone with a high metabolism. Carthel said Thompson’s playing weight was between 215 and 230 pounds. 

“It was kind of depressing to see him show up at his pro day weighing 246 pounds,” Carthel said. “A professional athlete has access to so much more than we can offer at FCS, and I’m glad to see him taking advantage of his natural ability.”

During his time with the Lumberjacks, Thompson worked closely with Director of Sports Performance Josh Stoner to develop from what Carthel described as a “Twitchy, freaky athlete” into a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. In the process, Thompson was able to retain the abilities that make him a special player.

“We called him Gumby,” Carthel said. “He’s able to stay healthy despite taking on so many chop blocks because he has great flexibility, which he combines with an 84-inch wingspan that helps him rush the passer.”

Thompson will be the first Lumberjack to play in the Super Bowl since John Franklin-Myers played for the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Considering the increase in talent from SFA to the NFL, it won’t likely take another five years before the next ‘Jack plays in the Super Bowl.

Three SFA athletes have joined the NFL over the previous two years. Thompson was drafted in 2023. Defensive tackle Rayshad Nichols has spent most of the last two seasons on the Baltimore Ravens practice squad, and Xavier Gipson was a fan favorite for the New York Jets after signing as a rookie free agent.

“Rayshad spent most of the year on the practice squad, but he was activated for several weeks,” Carthel said. “Xavier broke through on Hard Knocks as a fan favorite, and then he broke the internet with that punt return for a touchdown in overtime to win on Monday Night Football. He ended the year starting at slot receiver, which is incredible for a guy that didn’t get drafted.”

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