SALT LAKE CITY — In the last decade, the Utah football program has produced only one 1,000-yard receiver.
Dres Anderson, the speedster from Riverside, California, eclipsed the mark by 2 yards his junior season in 2013 but failed to reach the mark again his senior season after suffering a season-ending knee injury in October 2014. Darren Carrington II got close in 2017 with his 980 receiving yards.
It’s an arbitrary mark, but one typically set to identify high-level receivers — only 30-40 or so receivers pass that mark each season nationally.
And while there’s a handful of worthy candidates at Utah capable of a big season, junior wide receiver Bryan Thompson hopes to be the No. 1 option — a number that also happens to be on the back of his jersey this year — in an experienced and proven room that brings back Britain Covey, Solomon Enis and Samson Nacua, to say nothing of the tight ends and their pass-catching abilities.
Thompson looks like a prototypical wide receiver. At 6-foot-2 and 205-pounds, he’s the guy who can make highlight catches and be the star of a team. He’s also only shown glimpses of his true talent as a receiver in his previous three seasons at Utah, which included a redshirt season sandwiched between his freshman and sophomore years.
Thompson has all the right attributes and characteristics to be a star receiver at the collegiate level, but he has been hampered by a string of injuries that have limited his ability to consistently produce at a high level. Last season, Thompson finished the year as the team’s leading receiver with 461 yards and three touchdowns on 16 receptions, though he was second to tight end Brant Kuithe’s 602-yard, six-touchdown performance.
In 2020, Thompson is doing everything he can to stay healthy and improve his game to finally showcase his true talent.
For the junior wide receiver out of Moreno Valley, California, it all started in the offseason with a study of his body and the types of things a body needs to perform at a high level.
“I really took time and really studied the human body, understand what my body needs,” Thompson said. “In years prior, I tended to work really hard and not care about my body condition.”
Hard work is important, but he felt it was time to be conditioned properly before the hard work could truly pay off. So he picked up various dieting tips to reduce his body fat percentage, which included fasting at least one day per week. “I’m not playing any games this year,” he said, speaking to the serious nature of his preparation.
“A lot of people look at weight, body weight. I’m not a big believer in body weight,” receiver coach Guy Holliday said. “I’m a big believer in body fat, because that interprets particularly the lateral movements for a receiver. So, he’s (Thompson) focused more in trimming his body fat down, and he’s done a great job with it. I think he should have a great season because of it.”
His head coach has noticed, too.
“I can tell you he looks great. So whatever he’s been studying, he’s been applying; because he looks about as good as a wide receiver can look,” Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s 205 pounds and ripped up, and performing very well, in addition.”
But that hard work and improvement on the field is still important — and that’s Thompson’s biggest focus entering a shortened and delayed season.
“That’s one thing I really fine-tuned in my game this entire COVID situation,” Thompson said. “I just made sure I don’t have any weaknesses in my game and try to fine-tune my weaknesses so that they’re all my strengths, as far as, like, open field, my body — taking care of it, no matter what.”
He’ll be a primary focus of an offense that’s flexible under offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig. Unless there’s a mismatch or an obvious star on the team, like running back Zack Moss was for Utah last season, Ludwig has options, and he’s not afraid to use them all. It could be Thompson, or it could be a cadre of other talented receivers and skills players that are able to move the ball at any given time.
“Coach Lud is really smart. This second year he’s putting in new routes and specific routes for some of the receivers,” Thompson said. “I feel like it’s all about personnel with coach Lud. If you don’t make those plays, you’re not getting the ball. That’s what I love about coach Lud. If you’re making plays, feeding — that’s what we’ve been preaching about this program: feed whoever is getting the ball, whoever is eating; whoever’s doing good in the game, keep on feeding them the ball. And I feel like that’s what coach Lud does a great job with.”
Thompson doesn’t need to be the star; he just needs to shine when his number’s called. And though he likely won’t eclipse the 1,000-yard mark — or 584 yards in a shortened seven-game season — he’s hoping to showcase a bigger role in an offense that needs to take charge in a year when the defense will likely have some growing pains.
“He’s one of our top guys, obviously, on the outside,” Whittingham said. “He should be commended for the conscientious effort he’s made to get himself as good as he can possibly be, physically, and it’s translating. He was a good receiver to begin with, but he’s taking it to another level.”
So whether it’s No. 1 or another spot in the final tally, Thompson is ready for a breakout season in whatever role he’s asked to play.
“My main concern is really just making plays when my number’s called, and helping this team win as many games as possible,” Thompson said.