September 4, 2017 10:41:40 PM
STARKVILLE -- Keytaon Thompson was putting on a show in New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Dec. 10, winning a state championship for Landry-Walker High School; just days later he was part of a bowl practice for his next school, Mississippi State.
Since then, Thompson's climb up the depth chart since then has been exactly what was expected: quickly up to the No. 2 spot. The only question to come up in the final weeks before the season open was if Thompson would get playing time like a backup does.
MSU coach Dan Mullen repeatedly floated the idea of redshirting Thompson in the final weeks before Saturday's season opener against Charleston Southern, but Thompson ultimately made his debut Saturday. Mullen left the decision up to Thompson.
"Once I told him I wanted to play, (Mullen) said, 'Well you're playing this week,'" Thompson said. "From there I watched film and got ready to play."
Thompson described a preseason meeting with Mullen in which he laid out all of the pros and cons of the redshirt and of playing as a freshman, then sent him off to make his decision. MSU quarterbacks coach Brett Elliott had a similar conversations with Thompson's parents.
When Thompson asked his circle for advise, he got more or less the same thing he got from Mullen: the decision was entirely his.
"My parents and my high school coach (Emanuel Powell) did the same thing, but kind of hinted at planning," Thompson said.
The decision was far from an easy one: even after the fact, Thompson doesn't feel strongly that one way is significantly better for his development than the other. It took him months to reach a final verdict, as he said Mullen first approached him with the idea in the summer after Thompson had climbed to No. 2.
He acknowledged being the clear No. 2 quarterback weighed on his decision, a position he earned in his first semester of college as an early enrollee last spring. Thompson told The Dispatch his mind-set coming into that spring was to battle for a spot: "compete, push Nick (Fitzgerald) and make the team better."
Once the decision was made, Thompson was all-in. At that point, there was no second-guessing, making the hardest part the wait.
"I was just waiting on my moment, being patient and ready to execute when my number was called," Thompson said. "Now that I've got my feet wet, I feel great."
Thompson got his feet wet to the tune of four completions for 35 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts. From here, Thompson said his priorities lie in improving, staying patient and making the most of the opportunities he is presented; he thinks his first outing gave him plenty to work with in that respect.
"I felt like I could've performed a little better, I could've scored once or twice more. It's little things," Thompson said.
Having now seen what Thompson does in a game, Mullen will show no fear in turning to Thompson. Thompson has fully embraced it.
"He's a snap away from getting in there for us and being the guy, being the starter," Mullen said. "As you can see with him, from his first two or three plays to his last two or three plays was a big difference. It was big for him to get that experience and get on the field."
Thompson added, "It is kind of a relief to know my role, know going forward that I'm the No. 2 and if a helmet comes off or anything, I'll be the one that goes in. It just feels good."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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