Kiowa quarterback Kendal Thompson
Utah Athletics
Kiowa quarterback Kendal Thompson uses his legs in the Michigan game last season.

Utah Quarterback Kendal Thompson Tells Natives ‘You Have to Believe in Yourself’

Rodney Harwood

Utah quarterback Kendal Thompson (Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma) knows the value of Indian Time, walking with humility, facing all challenges, patience and preparation for when his time comes.

The time will come for the 23-year-old senior from Moore, Okla., as he overcomes an injury-plagued career at Utah. The Utes upended Michigan last week in the NCAA season opener in front of the largest crowd in Utah history (47,825). Thompson is currently the back-up to starter Travis Wilson, but he will be ready Friday night when the No. 24 Utes host Utah State (9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2).

As a junior, the Oklahoma University transfer went into the season in a highly contested battle with Wilson for the starting job. Wilson won out, but Thompson took over midway through the season, leading Utah to a historic victory over nationally ranked UCLA. It was just the second time Utah had beaten a ranked opponent on the road and the first time the Utes have beaten the Bruins in Los Angeles. His final line wasn’t overwhelming (10 of 13 for 95 yards with one touchdown; 19 carries for 83 yards), but it was enough to earn him the starting job until he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Oregon.

The competition between Wilson and Thompson was a great part of the 2015 fall camp. Again, Wilson will get the start. “When you’re competing with someone, I think you try to bring out the best in yourself. But at the same time, you bring out the best in your teammate,” Thompson told ICTMN. “We’ve done a good job of pushing each other and as a result of that, both of us have become better players.”

Kendal Thompson against Fresno State (Utah Athletics)Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham likes what he sees in Thompson. “It’s not a two-quarterback system,” Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s not first quarter, second quarter. It’s when we get the opportunity to put Kendal in and get him some work. He’s earned that right, and you will see him play, as well. But Travis is our starter.”

Thompson came into his senior season with a better understanding of the system and the experience of leading the Utes past UCLA. “Even before I step on the field, I know I can play at this level. So I think it helped mentally,” he said of the 30-28 victory over the Bruins. “It also helps with preparation, knowing that when I get my opportunity, I have to be ready.”

Thompson comes from an athletic family. His father Charles played quarterback at Oklahoma (1987-88). His cousins, former Oklahoma defensive back Antonio Perkins and West Virginia senior wide receiver Jordan Thompson, also achieved NCAA success. His mother Kori is half Kiowa and his ties to the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma provided grounding. “Growing up I lived with her parents for a short time in my life and they had a huge part in my early years,” said Thompson. “This summer I received my Kiowa tribal name, which translates to Little Wolf. It was passed down from my great grandfather and it really means a lot to me.”

Kendal also carries a strong personal message to Indian country that no matter what the circumstances, it doesn’t have to keep you down. He overcame his own personal struggles to get where he is today. On January 26, 1989, the FBI videotaped his father selling 17 grams of cocaine to an undercover agent. Charles was later arrested in Norman, Okla., and charged with dealing cocaine. The Sooners suspended him from the team and he was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced to two years in prison. To his credit, Charles has since completed his degree, reaffirmed his Christianity and is currently a motivational speaker. His turnaround was featured in a Sports Illustrated “Where are they now?”

Quarterbacks Travis Wilson (left) and Kendral Thompson are once again vying for the starting job at Utah. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

That’s a lot for a son to overcome, but Kendal came through the struggle stronger and more focused. He was a highly recruited three-star prospect out of Southmoore High School in Moore, Okla., and ended up receiving a scholarship to the very university where his father’s off-the-field controversy became national headlines. Kendal received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Oklahoma and is currently pursuing a second degree in educational psychology at Utah.

Thompson said his own perseverance is paying off and the success of Native players in the NFL and Division I is making an impact in Indian country. Players like Sam Bradford (Cherokee), Bryce Petty (Chickasaw), Tyler Bray (Citizen Band Potawatomi), G.J. Kinne (Muscogee, Creek) are leading the way. “I think there’s a Native presence everywhere. We’re not the first ones to have success at this level, but it does set a precedent,” Thompson said. “The younger generation is finally taking notice and I think that younger kids are starting to see that Native Americans can do anything.”

When Haskell Indian Nations University discontinued its football program, a lot of Native players were looking for direction. Thompson said anything is possible and not to be afraid to try new things. “I think you have to believe in yourself,” he said. “I have a lot of family down there in Caddo County in Oklahoma. A lot of times families down there get engulfed in the idea they can never leave the area. It’s good to keep that heritage in you, but a lot of kids need to realize there’s bigger things out there. You can go out and be successful and make a name for the Native people.”

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