Juwan Thompson of St. Croix
DENVER – Instead of celebrating his game-winning touchdown run in Saturday’s 19-12 Broncos preseason win over the San Francisco 49ers, running back Juwan Thompson sat at his locker after the game kicking himself for a first-quarter special-teams blunder.
Thompson is usually tough on himself, but Saturday was different. He wanted that day to be perfect because of what it meant.
His grandmother, Hattie Marie Simon Griggie, would have turned 63 on Saturday if she had not lost her valiant fight with cancer two years prior. Thompson said he played the game in her memory.
“It was definitely on my mind,” Thompson said. “I wanted to score a touchdown for her. And I’m happy I did.”
Thompson said his family gets really emotional this time of year, and he was hearing about it from his mom up until a few hours before game time.
It started to get to him.
But he had a game to play. Once the pads were on and ankles were taped, it was all about football. And on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Broncos called his number and he punched it in up the middle for six points.
Then, he followed it up with another run, right up the gut, for the two-point conversion.
“I think she would be real proud of me,” Thompson said. “She never saw me play, but I think it would have made her smile to see me scoring a touchdown.”
Running backs usually don’t like to tackle, and some prefer not to be tackled, either. But Thompson is a little different.
He seeks contact. When he was the starting running back at Duke, he also moonlighted as the special-teams captain.
“He does whatever you ask him to do, big or small,” running backs coach Eric Studesville said. “He understands a lot of his role, if he’s here, is on special teams.”
And that’s how he made the team last season. He joined a crowded backfield with C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman already in Denver. But Thompson made himself a valuable commodity on special teams and as a short-yardage back, which allowed the Broncos to keep him active in 15 games.
Thompson’s Twitter bio references Galatians 6:9 which says: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
That defines Thompson’s mind-set on special teams and how he got in the NFL as a whole.
He wasn’t a star at Duke. In fact, he started just 24 of the 49 games he played and amassed only 1,244 yards over a four-year career.
As a senior, he was the team’s starter to begin the year. By the end of the season, he had totaled only 355 rushing yards in 14 games.
Thompson was largely ignored in the draft process and was prepared to hang up his cleats before the Broncos saw his potential and signed him as a college free agent.
“I just wanted to give it a shot and see how much football I had left in me,” Thompson said. “I was going to go to grad school (at Duke). I already got in and everything. But I worked my (behind) off. And I made the team.”
Not only did he make the team, he was a key contributor. He rushed for 272 yards and three touchdowns and became the first undrafted rookie since 2006 to rush for two touchdowns in a game with his performance against San Diego in October.
“An opportunity is only an opportunity if you’re in the position to take advantage of it,” Studesville said.
Now, a year later, Thompson is in the same position again.
His roster spot appears more secure, but you never know in this league.
Coach Gary Kubiak noted Thompson’s special-teams prowess as the main reason he has passed Ball in the running back rotation.
Still, Thompson is not ready to let down his guard. Hard work is how he got in the league, and hard work is how he’ll go out.
Hattie Marie Simon Griggie