Hendrix back in the playoff hunt

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Miles Thompson doesn't even like to lose in Rock, Paper, Scissors, so imagine what happened when he lost the rest of the 2018 season to an injury.
Hendrix athletics photo

By Brian Lester

Hendrix is off and running this season, winning its first four games, and it's hard to top that.

“You couldn’t ask for more wins. We haven’t played any more games yet,” Warriors head coach Buck Buchanan said with a laugh.

The math makes sense in the situation. The return of quarterback Miles Thompson has helped the wins add up for Hendrix, which was 2-8 a year ago.

The junior is healthy again and his competitive fire is burning as brightly as ever. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“I’m a big competition guy,” Thompson said. “I like to compete in everything I do. We play rock, paper, scissors before we go out and stretch. I get frustrated if I lose.”

He hasn’t had to worry about that yet, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and throwing for 784 yards and five scores to help the Warriors get things rolling in the right direction again.

His success is fueled, in part, by a mindset shaped by having the game taken away from him a year ago. Thompson appeared in just two games before getting sidelined for the year.

“It makes you more hungry. It makes you miss the game,” Thompson said. “You take advantage of the chance to be back.”

He first tore his labrum two years ago on his non-throwing arm (left) but battled through the pain, managing to still to throw for 3,472 yards and 37 touchdowns. He rushed for 552 yards and 10 scores.

He tried to carry that success over to last season despite the injury. It didn’t work. The doctor let him know he was done for the year.

“It was pretty hard. Football has been a staple in my life,” Thompson said. “I pride myself on being a tough guy and play through the bumps and bruises. Not being able to play and dealing with something I couldn’t control, it was hard mentally. And watching my team struggle and not being out there to help, that was hard, too.”

His head coach can relate.

“Speaking from experience, I had to sit out my senior year because of an injury. It’s hard,” Buchanan said. “There are a lot of things you take for granted when you are playing. You think you are invincible. When you are taken out of what you are doing every day, you become a lot more thankful for your opportunities.”

Buchanan said Thompson has come back stronger than ever and is more efficient than he’s ever been. His leadership has soared to another level as well.

“He prepared hard to come back from the injury,” Buchanan said. “He’s just a better all-around player and in better shape.

“The other thing is the football team around him is better. A year ago, you saw us drop balls, not make the blocks, things indicative of losing teams. We are doing those things now. There is attention to detail. Everyone is more focused.”

It was a learning experience for sure.

“I was a hard way to learn. I would have much rather read it in a book,” Buchanan said. “They always say the guy with experience gets money and the guy with money gets experience. We paid for our experience. But it made us a better football team. It was necessary for the growth of our program.”

Thompson admits it took some time to get back into the flow of the game. He said he was a little timid in the opener, a 34-0 win over Lyon, but noted he became a different player in the 26-23 road win over Texas Lutheran. Seventeen seconds into the game, he connected with Rip Upshaw on a 79-yard scoring strike.

He hit Upshaw on a 32-yard touchdown pass later in the game and ended the night going 17-of-29 for 283 yards.

“We scored that first touchdown and I felt like I was ready to go,” Thompson said. “That game helped me get my confidence back and my team’s confidence in me. That game put me over the top mentally.”

Hendrix is balanced, relying on more than just a solid passing. The Warriors have churned out nearly as many yards on the ground (751) as they have thrown this season (789).

Kip VanHoose leads the rushing attack with 450 yards and four scores. Thompson has rushed for four touchdowns as well. Austin O’Brien has scored one rushing touchdown.

Chad McGonigal leads the passing attack with 13 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown. Colton Phillips has 21 catches for 148 yards.

“We have good running backs and you never know what’s going to happen when they get the ball,” Thompson said. “We have good guys up front blocking and guys on the outside to go to when we throw the ball around. We are all getting better every game and we’re a big threat to defenses because we can score in a lot of different ways.”

The biggest test of the season so far is next for Hendrix. The Warriors face Berry on Saturday on the road in a pivotal SAA game. Both teams are unbeaten, with the Vikings sporting a 5-0 mark and a No. 8 national ranking. The Warriors are receiving votes (20) in the latest D3football.com Top 25 poll.

“Both teams are going to show up ready to play,” Buchanan said. “They have a class program over there. We like playing in these types of games. It’s going to be a hard-fought battle.”

Buchanan noted the league as a whole is in a different spot than it was the last time the Warriors beat the Vikings in 2013. Hendrix won that game 30-17.

“Our league has gotten significantly better,” Buchanan said. “You drop your mouthpiece one week you are going to pay for it. We had two teams win playoff games last year. You look at your schedule now and you don’t get to count on your hand the games you are going to win.”

Hendrix and Berry are the last two unbeaten teams in league play, sporting SAA records of 3-0 and 2-0, respectively.

This is the kind of game that someone like Thompson, who competes to win even when it comes to rock, paper, scissors, lives for.

“I’m one of those players who wants to play the best and beat the best,” Thompson said. “This is a big game, but we have to treat it like it’s just another game. We can’t make it seem like it’s an impossible game to win. We have to come in and play our game, be disciplined and be sound and be tenacious on every snap. If we do those things, we’ll have a chance to come out on top.”

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