August 12, 2017 10:33:52 PM
STARKVILLE -- Keytaon Thompson arrived to the Mississippi State football program without a certain grace Dak Prescott and Nick Fitzgerald were granted: without lofty expectations. The success of Thompson's aforementioned predecessors, widely credited to coach Dan Mullen's track record of success with quarterbacks, anointed Thompson as the next transcendent MSU quarterback when he enrolled early in December.
To date, none of that has fazed him. Those who know him personally doubt it ever will; the opening weeks of his first preseason camp serve as confirmation.
"He's well, well beyond where I was when I got here," Fitzgerald said. "He's earned a lot of respect just by making the plays he has. He seems pretty calm out there, he seems like he knows what he's doing and that's good to see, because we're probably going to need him out there some time."
No one knows the Thompson brand of calm better than Emanuel Powell.
Powell is the head coach at Landry-Walker High School in the New Orleans area, where Thompson grew into Louisiana's Gatorade Player of the Year and the quarterback for the reigning Class 5A state champions. The prime example came in Thompson's final action as a Charging Buccaneer in that state championship game: 303 passing yards with no interceptions, 154 rushing yards, six combined touchdowns...and little emotion showed until the final score of 50-21.
"It says that he's a true leader," Powell said. "He had been doing that all year-round. The atmosphere, the environment was never too big for him. He's grown up to be this young man where nothing shakes him."
MSU quarterbacks coach Brett Elliott noticed the same calm in the spring when, as he said it, "he's supposed to be going to his senior English class."
Instead, he spent the spring learning the MSU system. MSU conducted that process with no assumptions of preexisting knowledge: Elliott said there was a 15-minute meeting teaching Thompson how to take notes on the team's iPads, not to mention basics of film study.
By all accounts, Elliott's included, Thompson took it all in well -- as he did for Powell at Landry-Walker. Powell saw firsthand how knowledge unlocked the fullest potential of Thompson's physical abilities.
"Once he gets the full reins of the offense, the sky is the limit," he said. "He's going to supercede everybody's thought on what he should be because he's going to be that guy that gets everybody else in the right play, but he's also going to be able to make plays with his arm and with his feet. That's the beauty of it: there truly is no bad play for him.
"He's a very confident young man and I think the more knowledgeable he becomes of an offense, he makes everyone else around him a better player."
Thompson has already been challenged to do just that, when Elliott said he has to, "be able to run the show," as the backup. According to Mullen, that's another test Thompson has passed.
"I think a lot of times, you just forget that he's a true freshman because of the responsibility that he has and his performance and what our expectations of him are," Mullen said. "I think a lot of the guys, not just us, but guys on the team, forget that he's a true freshman. So they expect him to be a leader that can be a vocal guy and that can have command of the offense."
The rave reviews from his teammates and coaches have done nothing but add to the Thompson fervor that already existed when he entered the program. But as Fitzgerald said and Mullen later agreed, the time will come where it must translate to fall Saturdays: as Mullen said it, "You've just got to do it."
Powell knows he can.
"He's not one of those kids that's never seen a lot of defenses," Powell said. "We play a variety of defenses at our high school, we mix the secondary coverages up and we travel all around -- we've been to Texas, Arkansas, Alabama -- to some of the best schools and played 7-on-7 against them.
"He's seen it all."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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