New Lightning coach focuses on positives
Jesse Thompson's first fall as the head football coach at Franklin High School doesn't involve actually coaching football.
At least not in the traditional sense of preparing players for competition.
Instead, Thompson is doing what he can to build a connection with players virtually while looking forward to the day he can gather them on a field.
Despite the disruption caused by COVID-19, Thompson said the Franklin job is "the right opportunity at the right time" for his first high school head coaching post.
Thompson was hired after Chris Miller, the former NFL and Oregon quarterback, left Franklin without coaching a game to return to West Linn. Thompson was going to serve as an assistant coach on Miller's Franklin staff. He had a chance to follow Miller to West Linn, but ultimately chose to run his own program at the Portland Interscholastic League school.
Thompson played at Lincoln High, then in college at Portland State and Southern Oregon, before starting a coaching career that has included coaching at every level of college football, to France and the Czech Republic, where he was head coach for the 2017 league championship.
Most recently, Thompson was the special teams and defensive quality control coach for the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL.
When that league folded, Thompson returned to the Portland area, where he has a business as a private trainer for young football players. He recently has been an assistant coach at La Salle High and at Westview High.
He said it's time to run his own high school program, to put knowledge and philosophies he's developed in his coaching travels to the test.
"The chance to be able to do that at a Portland high school, to run a program how you want to run it, is a perfect opportunity," Thompson said.
That program will use a run-and-shoot offense that he first began to learn coaching running backs at Portland State in 2008-09, when Jerry Glanville was coaching the Vikings and when Mouse Davis — whose run-and-shoot offense set records at PSU with Neil Lomax at quarterback — was the offensive coordinator.
He said the run-and-shoot — a version of the spread offenses in vogue these days — "stuck with me as a fever."
He's coached with other proponents of the run and shoot, most recently in a support position for June Jones with the XFL's Roughnecks.
"We've got some athletes (at Franklin)," Thompson said. "I think guys are going to embrace it, going to love it from the youth level up through high school."
Building continuity from Franklin-feeding youth football programs through his high school team will be critical to making the Lightning successful, Thompson said.
The run-and-shoot is a big shift from the veer offense the Lightning ran under previous head coach Wes Warren. Warren remains with the program, and will serve as defensive coordinator. Thompson said having Warren involved will certainly help the transition.
Alex Grimes, who played with Thompson at Lincoln in the mid-1990s and later was the Cardinals' head coach, is one of Franklin's assistant coaches. Another is former Oregon State offensive lineman Alex Linnenkohl, who develops linemen through his Beaverton gym, LinePro.
Even in the few weeks of connecting virtually with Franklin students, parents and staff, Thompson said he is "enthralled" by the family vibe of the community.
Thompson remembers drawing up a play for his Lincoln High team and scoring a touchdown on it. As a youngster, it was the Xs and Os that drew him to coaching. He quickly learned the profession is much more impactful than teaching and calling successful plays.
"I'm not in this for the Xs and Os," he said. "I'm in this for the relationships and the camaraderie and all of the life skills that football can teach."
Thompson would love to be coaching football this fall, but he is looking at the delay until spring as a positive because the extra time will help both the players and coaches transition.
"I always try to spin everything positive," he said. "That's how I want our players to think."
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