TAMPA — When Ty Thompson entered Plant High as a freshman, he saw himself as a soccer player who also happened to play junior varsity football. When he made the varsity team last year as a cornerback, coach Robert Weiner described him as a silly kid who was a little immature and unfocused.
And there wasn't a position Thompson thought he couldn't play. He wanted to be all over the field, including placekicker. By the end of last season he was also used as a running back. Then the spring season rolled around and Weiner saw a different player.
"I don't think he was sure what he wanted to do," Weiner said. "There was a time last spring where Ty really turned a corner. I don't know what it was, but he turned that corner. There's a good vibe about Ty, a good feel."
Thompson continues to play soccer for the Panthers — he's captain of the team — but he has embraced his role as one of Plant's top backs.
Quarterback Dane Frantzen is the team's leading rusher, with 146 carries for 1,323 yards and 18 touchdowns. Then there is Thompson, who has 73 carries for 740 yards and nine touchdowns. That's an average of just six carries per game, but he's made the most of his opportunities.
In the rivalry game against Armwood, Thompson came through with 101 yards on 13 carries and scored a touchdown in the Panthers' 29-27 win. And last week in a 35-7 win over Viera in the Class 7A region final, Thompson ran wild with 192 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
The bigger the game, the better Thompson has played.
"Earlier in the season, I was getting as many carries as Coach thought I should get," Thompson said. "I think it was because I wasn't fully developed. But as the season went on, I progressed and I got more and more carries."
Weiner, who focuses on the offense, has plenty of options on this year's team. Not only has Frantzen rushed for more than 1,000 yards, but he has also thrown for 2,109 yards. Wiener said he is able to tell early in the game whether the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Thompson is going to be effective.
"He has speed that is not in keeping with someone his size," Weiner said. "He presents an interesting package. There are times when he is explosive. Then there are times when he's not sudden enough. Sometimes he hasn't gotten as many carries because he's started games hesitant or tentative. But he's been at his best in big games, like the third round of the playoffs or against Armwood."
Thompson goes into each game thinking it's going to be a big one. If he can't contribute much on offense, he can always contribute on defense. And he's even talked Weiner into letting him kick two extra points this season, making both.
He is hoping for another big contribution Friday against Jacksonville Lee in the Class 7A state semifinals. Just because he had a big game last week, he knows this week could be totally different. That's why he tries to not get too excited.
"My confidence stays the same," Thompson said. "I approach each game the same way. If my offensive line is blocking then I do well. They give me the holes to run through and I just take advantage."
Thompson has come a long way since he first stepped on campus. And the good news for Plant and Weiner is that he has another season ahead of him.
"He's a tremendous kid," Weiner said. "I couldn't be happier with his growth."