Antony Thompson had a monster first four weeks at running back for Surprise Willow Canyon. He had 695 rushing yards in that span, including two games with five touchdowns and 200-plus yards.
Then Peoria Centennial, the top-ranked team in Division II at the time, held him to 49 yards in a 56-23 loss. Last week against Glendale Ironwood, he rushed for only 59 yards.
So Thompson unveiled a whole new trick as Willow Canyon (4-2) downed Ironwood 24-14: He can catch, too.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior caught just three balls but recorded 95 receiving yards and two scores in the win.
“It was just necessary because our running game was moving, but not moving as well as it usually does,” Thompson said. “Usually we average at least a first down, but it wasn’t really moving as well. We started to figure if they’re keying on me in the backfield, let’s see how they adjust to moving me out and seeing if they can defend me from a passing perspective.”
It was the first time all season Thompson has split out wide. For one touchdown, he ran a wheel route from the slot and hauled in a perfectly thrown pass for a 55-yard score. The other was on a go route, and Thompson had to adjust to the ball, going around the cornerback for the catch, then running to paydirt.
The forward pass won’t be a frequent feature in the Willow Canyon offense — last week was the first time the team had more than 100 yards passing this season — but it’s available when needed.
“We knew that he could be a weapon at receiver if needed,” coach Mike Hudnutt said, “but we’re a run-oriented football team, and I haven’t given up on that aspect of it.”
Those passing looks have been in the Willow Canyon offense since preseason but weren’t dusted off until last week. Thompson said he has good hands — even after catching just seven passes last year — and credits studying his older brother Marquice Baggler, a receiver who graduated in 2012.
But for everyone not at Willow Canyon practices, the look was a surprise.
Thompson hopes it turns some heads, as he has gotten only sniffs from community colleges like Glendale and Eastern Arizona.
“A lot of colleges look at that, for one,” Thompson said of his pass-catching ability. “Number 2, it opens up a lot in a team’s package. Not only just for me, but for other players.”
Added Hudnutt: “If (scouts) can’t look at film and see what kind of an athlete he is, they’re crazy.”