After locking up the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round playoff bye last week, the Kansas City Chiefs kicked it into preservation mode in Week 17, playing to a 38-21 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers minus many key starters.
Among those absent were running backs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell, both recovering from injuries sustained in recent weeks. The decision to rest both ahead of the playoffs opened up the door for 2019 sixth-rounder Darwin Thompson to carry the load on Sunday — and the 23-year-old delivered in a big way, scoring twice while racking up 110 scrimmage yards on 21 touches (14 carries).
After the game, the second-year back got emotional while discussing his career day and the impact of a late mentor who initially helped him reach the NFL stage.
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Darwin Thompson Gives Touching Tribute to JUCO Coach
Instead of basking in Sunday’s two-touchdown breakout performance during his postgame press conference, Thompson reflected on the role that Gerald Howse, his former running backs coach at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, played in his young career.
The 28-year-old coach died suddenly on May 24, 2020, according to a memoriam posted by Tennessee Tech, who hired Howse to lead its running backs in late January.
Darwin Thompson: "Don't ever let nobody tell you what you can and can't do. Believe in your self."
— Harold R. Kuntz (@HaroldRKuntz3) January 4, 2021
“My JUCO coach died like four months ago,” Thompson told reporters on Sunday. “It’s just God’s plan. I’ve just got to keep going. I wish he was here to watch me. I don’t know, I just have to keep going. Some kids is looking up to me. So many people have doubted me up until this point and he pushed me to be great. I just want to [say to the] kids back home, don’t ever let nobody tell you what you can and can’t do. Believe in yourself, man.
“I went the JUCO route. I didn’t have it this way, that way, the other, but I never stopped believing in myself. I look myself in the mirror every morning. I’ve got a whiteboard with all my goals and I read them out to myself and they say finish 2020 out strong and come into 2021 dominant. I recreated my identity and I just know my coach is watching over me.”
Thompson followed up his comments on the podium with a second tribute on Twitter.
LONG LIVE GERALD HOWSE
— DARWIN THOMPSON (@DTRAINN5) January 4, 2021
Thompson Shows What He Can Do
Before catching the eyes of NFL evaluators at Utah State in 2018, Thompson recorded the second-most rushing yards in Northeastern Oklahoma A&M history (2,420) while averaging 7.2 yards per carry in two seasons under Howse’s guidance.
As a sophomore in 2016, Thompson rushed for 1,391 yards and eight touchdowns, later earning him Southwest Junior College Football Conference Offensive MVP and Second-Team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American honors.
Now in his sophomore campaign as a pro, the 5-foot-8, 200-pounder has carved out a significant role on special teams, though has played sparingly on offense thus far. He took advantage of his opportunities in Week 17, however.
Prior to Sunday, Thompson had posted 180 rushing yards and one touchdown on 50 carries in 25 games, adding nine catches for an additional 43 yards, all in 2019. With two years remaining on his rookie contract, he’s a likely candidate to stick around as a quality depth option behind Edwards-Helaire in 2021.
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!