Thompson, a sophomore, began his collegiate career at The Citadel before transferring to ETSU. The two teams face off Saturday at 2 p.m. in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Citadel comes in 7-0, 5-0 in the Southern Conference. The Bucs, coming off a non-conference win over West Virginia Wesleyan, are 3-4, 1-4.
“It’s going to feel good going back,” Thompson said. “I still know a lot of those guys on that team. Before the game and after the game, we’ll probably cut up, laugh about a few stories. But once the game starts and we’re out there competing, we’ll be enemies.”
Thompson has been taking advantage of recent playing time. He’s only gotten 17 carries, but he’s averaging 5.6 yards per attempt to lead the team.
“What I see is a running back that runs the ball extremely hard,” ETSU coach Carl Torbush said. “He showed some speed. He showed the things that we recruited him for. The thing I like about Matt is he is a firm believer in this football program and this school.”
Torbush recruited Thompson out of Morristown East High School, but when The Citadel and its military lifestyle called, Thompson listened.
After one year and a coaching change at The Citadel, Thompson called Torbush and asked if he could come back to East Tennessee.
“I enjoyed the Citadel,” Thompson said. “It taught me some good core values: Honor, duty, respect. That’s some things I transferred over here, which help me be a good leader on the football team.
“It was a good transition here. The coaching staff here, they treat everybody fairly.”
The 5-foot-10, 220-pound Thompson has used his size to become ETSU’s most physical back. None of his 17 carries have lost any yardage.
“When I came here I knew that we had some good running backs in Falon Lee and Jajuan Stinson,” Thompson said. “Hopefully I can complement them and play my role on the football team. They’re good, quick scatbacks. I’m a big power back.
“I try to get four or more yards a carry, and like coach says, move the chains and get some more first downs. Hopefully I can continue to improve and help the team as much as possible.”
While Thompson admits he needs to work on his role in the passing game — both on receiving and protection — he is the only player on the team to have scored a rushing touchdown and caught a touchdown pass. His short TD reception against Western Carolina was part of the comeback in ETSU’s 34-31 win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
As it turned out, that was the Bucs’ last victory in a SoCon game. They’ve lost four league games in a row since and are getting ready to face what might be the best team in the conference.
“We’ve been working hard in practice, getting back to the basics, and I think everything will improve,” Thompson said. “One of the main things is we have to run more positive plays and get ahead of the chains. We have been putting ourselves in bad situations on first and second down, which puts us in third-and-long situations. I feel like we can correct these things.”
Their next chance to show some improvement comes Saturday at a place that used to be home to Thompson.
“It’s special going back,” he said. “They’re a good team and I know they’re working hard.”