K-State QB Skylar Thompson thinks he is a better player now than he was before injury

Kellis Robinett
The Wichita Eagle (TNS)
Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson speaks to the media Wednesday during Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

ARLINGTON, Texas — For months, Kansas State football fans have wondered how much differently last season might have transpired had Skylar Thompson stayed healthy.

The senior quarterback was at the top of his game when the year began, and he led the Wildcats to a thrilling road victory over eventual Big 12 champion Oklahoma. But K-State was unable to keep winning games like that after Thompson suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing arm.

A 4-0 start to conference play quickly turned to ash. K-State ended the season by losing five consecutive games with freshman Will Howard leading the offense. What if Thompson, one of the most experienced passers in all of college football, played every game instead? It's hard not to wonder.

Well, it is for most of us anyway. Thompson doesn't dwell on that particular hypothetical.

"When you've been around the block a few times like I have, you realize what's important and what's just white noise," Thompson said during Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium. "I've seen everything. I've been in a quarterback battle, I've been called on to win games. I've been benched. I've played for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators. I've had a season-ending injury. Seriously, you name it and I've experienced it.

"I carry that with me every single day to help me remember what's important. Early on in my career, and even last year, I got caught up worrying about stuff that absolutely didn't matter, like what strangers were saying about us on Twitter. I've learned to ignore all that and focus on what's really important, and that has made me a better player."

All eyes will be on Thompson when K-State opens the 2021 season against Stanford back here in September.

Now that he's healthy, the Wildcats might have what it takes to surprise this year. Experienced quarterbacks are hard to beat in college football, and Thompson has that in spades. The former Fort Osage standout has been at K-State since 2016. He has played in 35 games and made 30 starts. He has twice toppled Oklahoma. His career statistics stack up with some of the best in program history. And he is back for a sixth year as a "super senior."

Furthermore: Chris Klieman has a 10-6 record with the Wildcats when Thompson is his starter and a 2-5 mark with Thompson on the sideline.

No wonder Klieman thinks he is a NFL prospect.

"He has elite arm talent," Klieman said. "He is also a good enough athlete, if they don't ask him to run like Lamar Jackson anyway. And he has played a lot of football. The more football you have played and the more experience that you have, that is what they are lacking in the NFL right now. Teams are looking for guys who have played a lot of snaps for multiple seasons. His experience will give him an opportunity. He will have a good year this year."

It's also easy for Thompson not to dwell on what might have been because he gets a rare opportunity for a mulligan, thanks to the NCAA freezing its eligibility clock last year.

Opposing fans can't joke about it seeming like Thompson has been at K-State for six seasons, because, well, that's exactly how long he's been in Manhattan.

What if he stayed healthy last season? He can provide an answer over the next months.

"I never thought I'd be saying thank you to COVID, but here I am saying thank you for that," Thompson said during Big 12 Media Days at AT&T Stadium. "It made the process of coming back way easier than what it would have been at any other time. Now, I'm super hungry. Whenever you get something taken away from you that really means a lot, you realize how truly important it is. Knowing this year that is my last go, and there are no re-runs, I think that has given me an extra little push and motivation."

That was most evident by how quickly he recovered from his injury. When he first met with K-State trainers his arm was in a sling and they told him he wouldn't be ready to throw again until June 1.

Thompson won't share all the details of his injury, but he says it was "unusual" and it forced him to rebuild strength in both his chest and his right arm. He was advised to take it slow and aim for a summer recovery. Instead, he pushed himself to accelerate the process.

When trainers instructed him to work out with seven-pound weights, he insisted on eight. Surprisingly, he pushed himself so hard that he was able to suit up and throw in spring practice ... shattering his original projection by three months.

"I feel strong," Thompson said. "I feel comfortable and I feel confident in everything I'm doing right now. There are no limitations."

"His physical tools are back," Klieman said. "I have seen them first hand."

In a perfect world, Thompson would be trying to make a NFL roster right now. But he is fine with waiting on that for a few more months.

Thompson is taking advantage of his extra time in college by enrolling in graduate school and perfecting his craft on the football field. On Thursday, Thompson flew to Louisiana to serve as a camp counselor at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy with some of the other top quarterbacks in college football.

He hopes to gain even more experience that might help him lead K-State back to its winning ways. He wants to leave the Little Apple as a winner. That's one of the reasons he never once thought about transferring.

"When I walk away from here, regardless of wins and losses, I hope people remember me as a true K-Stater," Thompson said, "that I stayed committed and did everything we could to help us win games and make our program better."

K-State safety Jahron McPherson is confident that fans will fondly remember Thompson following his final season in purple.

He knows what would have happened last year with a healthy experienced quarterback.

"The outcome would have been great," McPherson said. "Skylar is a big part of our team. He has started a lot of games, he has won a lot of big games and he knows what he's doing. Losing him last year was hard, but he's ready to bounce back and he will prove it this year."