NORMAN, Okla. — When Bob Bunton was in Texas during the first week of January watching his star defensive tackle Michael Thompson play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, it seemed clear which colleges were in the hunt for Thompson’s services.
In the Parkway North High School football coach’s mind, one school was looking in from the outside.
“I can tell you, Oklahoma was not in the picture then,” Bunton said.
Bunton caught wind of a big change, though, while relaxing on a flight from San Antonio back to his home base in St. Louis. That next afternoon, exactly a month before national signing day, there was OU.
“When we got back, Michael said he had a visit set up the next weekend to Norman,” Bunton said.
OU’s month-long push for Thompson paid off at the midnight hour when the four-star product signed with the Sooners over Missouri in a crowded room Wednesday at Parkway North.
Ranked the No. 3 defensive tackle nationally by 247sports, the 6-foot-5, 330-pound Thompson became the fourth highly touted 2018 recruit for OU’s defensive front and the Sooners’ biggest national signing day steal.
“He brings us something that we don't have that much of right now, which is — we've got some good defensive linemen, but I don't know if we have anybody with just that overall size, that can be that guy that can just totally plug things up,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said.
Riley got a little help from Ronnie Perkins, a defensive end from St. Louis’ Lutheran North High School who signed with OU in December, and sold the Sooner program to Thompson while the two friends were in San Antonio together.
Perkins was hugging Thompson’s shoulders Wednesday after the decision became final.
“As I told coach Riley, I think Perkins was on the staff,” Bunton said. “He’s the one who got Michael interested. There’s no question he and Ronnie hooked up. In terms of Oklahoma, I think that all transpired down in San Antonio.”
Thompson's upside outweighs the fact that he still needs to drop a few pounds, but the additional bulk didn’t keep him from playing both offensive and defensive line all through high school, or starting three seasons for Parkway North's basketball team.
“You could see the potential on his Hudl tape his freshman year,” Bunton said. “His very first varsity play he was at right tackle and we scored on an 80-yard run. This is a freshman who pancaked a kid and about put him through the ground, first play of the year.”
OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh initially offered Thompson a scholarship to play offense, but Thompson’s 77 tackles and seven sacks during his senior season helped change OU’s mind about where it would use him.
Thompson's unique mobility was evident on the basketball court. He wasn't exhausted playing the Vikings’ uptempo style, Bunton said, and during his final year playing as a junior, he rarely substituted after tipoff. He also had a nice little touch at the foul line.
“It's hard to believe he's as big as he is and can move the way that he can. He's very gifted,” Riley said. “To be able to do all the things this guy's done — on the basketball court, on the football field, to be able to go back and forth between offensive and defensive line, there's just not that many guys out there that can move like that and have that explosion.”
Bunton believes Thompson is still growing, too.
“I think he’s built for the future,” the coach said. “From what I’ve heard from everybody coming in, is his potential is pretty much unlimited.”