The Carolina Panthers’ first-round draft choice for 2015 was Shaq Thompson. Named for basketball star Shaquille O’Neal by his mother, he won the Paul Hornung Award last year for being the nation’s most versatile player after he split duties at Washington as both a running back and a linebacker.
The Panthers drafted Thompson purely as a linebacker, however, and hope his athleticism (he also once was chosen in the Major League Baseball draft) will translate quickly. Thompson was somewhat limited in practice this past week because of a tight hamstring but the injury is not believed to be serious. Oddly, he was announced as the Panthers’ No. 1 draft pick this season by Thomas Davis, who he may eventually be asked to replace. I asked him five questions:
Q. Assuming your hamstring is OK, you will make your NFL debut Friday at Buffalo. What are your thoughts on that game?
A. It’ll be crazy – my first NFL game. But at the end of the day, football’s football. I know it goes at a fast pace here and I’ll be ready for that.
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Q. What’s the biggest difference between the NFL and college football?
A. I have noticed that everybody’s good here. There aren’t just a few good players on a team. So you have to work to make yourself even better. I just look at our offensive line and defensive line and how athletic they are – and everybody seems to be like that.
Q. You were raised in California. What was your family like?
A. I grew up with three other brothers. I’m the youngest. My mom raised us – it was a single-parent household. We played every sport – basketball, baseball, football. The only thing we didn’t play was soccer.
Q. How many relatives have you had that have made it to the NFL in some fashion?
A. Three – my uncle, my cousin and my older brother Syd’quan Thompson. My brother was a cornerback for two years for Denver and then he got an injury (the elder Thompson ruptured his Achilles). His advice? He told me to get into my playbook, listen to the vets and follow their lead.
Q. You played one rookie-level season in minor-league baseball in 2012 as a center fielder. What is the major difference between baseball and football?
A. One’s a team sport and one is not. Baseball is just more about getting your individual stats. I have always just been a football guy since I was young. I love just being out there with my brothers.