Barely standing taller than the media podium during his second day of rookie minicamp, Kansas City Chiefs sixth-round pick Darwin Thompson carries a presence.
He speaks softly, but with confidence. At his size — just 5 feet, 8 inches — it makes sense, especially with trapezius muscles ready to burst out of his practice uniform.
“I’m 5-foot-8, so I have to make up for my height somewhere, and I do that in the weight room,” Thompson said. “I think being strong in your lower half and your core is (important). Look at (Saints’ tailback) Alvin Kamara. You can see some of the things he does as far as training and core work — it just starts in the weight room — and eventually, you have to translate that to the field.”
The question came about simply asking how he got so big for such a little frame. It traces back to his junior year at Jenks High School in Oklahoma.
“A kid told me I wouldn’t be a running back. I was too slow, not big enough and things like that. After that year it just never left me,” Thompson said.
“Everybody asks me how I got my traps. That one year of high school I went crazy on the traps and they never left.”
As they refer to it around the facility, Thompson is ‘rocked up.’
His cousin, David Thompson, played football at Oklahoma State before spending three seasons with the Rams. He grew up watching Marshawn Lynch at Cal while living near Oakland, then growing to idolize Demarcio Murray and Adrian Peterson when he moved to Oklahoma.
“When people think of Oklahoma, they think we ride horses on the street,” Thompson said. “We’ve got family in California who think we’ve got carriages and horses.”
Despite a touted high school career, Thompson landed at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, and people continued to speak into existence that his road would likely end there.
“After that, I really created something where nobody was going to stop me now,” Thompson said.
He went on to total over 2,420 yards at NEO before moving on to Utah State in 2018. He totaled 1,044 yards and 14 touchdowns, having one of the nation’s best marks with 6.8 yards per carry. Most of his work was done by utilizing his size to avoid would-be tacklers, evading 48 tackles for 765 yards after contact.
“I don’t have much to tackle, so I make a lot of people miss,” Thompson said. “As they say, they can’t tackle me in a phone booth. It’s a blessing in disguise.”
With the Chiefs hoping to bring in more depth to surround Carlos Hyde and Damien Williams, Thompson earned a top-30 visit prior to the 2019 NFL Draft. The blessing in disguise continued from there.
“I’m overlooked, underrated, I’m blessed to be here. It’s the perfect situation,” Thompson said. “You’re talking about starstruck – when I met coach Andy Reid on my top-30 visit, I was like ‘This is a Hall of Fame coach. He’s on his way.’ To just be in his system and to see what he’s done with other guys in the running back position, I’m very blessed. Perfect situation.”
Even before seeing him in action, Reid was giddy to see the new No. 25 on the training grounds.
“The one thing we noticed with him when you put on the film is everything was fast. He had the burst,” Reid said. “He had patience to the hole, but he had the speed through the hole.”
Although he is small, Thompson talks a big game. He played for the longest time wearing soccer spikes, unable to afford football cleats. Thompson plans to one day be able to buy cleats for kids who attend his camps and inspire kids with single mothers like him.
“I’ll always keep that chip on my shoulder, but I don’t do it so much for people that doubt me – it’s more for the people that are inspired by me,” Thompson said. “It’s much more than just about me now.”