UNIVERSITY PARK — Der’rikk Thompson is an asset for SMU in several respects. The Troup High School product who is heading into his junior season can catch passes, which he did 41 times for 535 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, and can also return kicks, something he did 16 times for 411 yards last fall.
And like many who play on special teams, there’s much to like about being part of what can be an overlooked aspect of the game.
“It’s a game changer,” Thompson said. “If I can get through the first level, there’s no telling what’s going to happen. A big return or a touchdown on a return, it just changes the whole game. It sparks the whole team. I want to be a game changer. That’s what I like about special teams and that’s what I like about the return. It’s a game-changing play and I just like it.”
But improving on special teams isn’t the only aspect of his game that he’s been focused on. He and his fellow receivers have spent much of the offseason working with SMU starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert to ensure they are all on the same page once the Mustangs open the 2013 campaign on Aug. 30 against Texas Tech.
“It’s getting a whole lot better, a whole lot better than when (Gilbert) first came in last spring,” Thompson said. “During the summer, we threw almost every day just to get the timing down and for him to read our body language for what we’re going to do out of each break and stuff like that. Over the summer, it got a whole lot better and it’s showing up here in camp.”
Mustangs head coach June Jones isn’t alone in feeling this season could be one where his junior pass catcher takes a giant step forward.
“He and Keenan (Holman) played a lot of football for us. It’s their time to kind of take a step to the next level and they’ve worked real hard to do that,” Jones said. “They’ve looked like that in camp, that they’ve taken it to the next level.”
Part of that progression could come from what the Troup product says has been his focus for much of this offseason — improving his attention to detail.
“Right now, I’m just working on being consistent at catching the ball and making sure I’m paying attention to detail on every assignment, making sure I do my part and trying to be a leader on the field,” Thompson said.
Going from being a young member of the SMU receiving corps to a veteran means he’ll be looked upon to provide leadership — a change that is welcomed.
“As I got older, I got wiser. Now I’m just trying to help the younger guys get up to speed,” he said.
Steve Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.