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Jeff Hunter
Utah State running back Darwin Thompson (5) runs onto the field prior to the start of USU's game against Tennessee Tech on Sept. 13 in Logan.

LOGAN — It would seem that there is a price to be paid every time Darwin Thompson scores a touchdown for the Aggies. And, since the junior running back out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, currently leads Utah State with 16 total touchdowns, that makes it an extremely hefty toll.

But the price Thompson has had endure during his first season of football at the Division I level hasn’t come via punishing hits from much larger Mountain West defenders.

Rather, it’s an overly exuberant center who seemingly can’t keep himself from celebrating Thompson’s scores with huge bear hugs and/or lifting the 5-foot-8, 200-pound back skyward.

“Oh my gosh, Quin hits me the hardest!” Thompson says of senior Quin Ficklin. “I get hit harder after I score than during the play. Quin either head-butts me or picks me up and slams me down.

“But then, sometimes we hold hands when we come off the field, and it’s like a walk in the park,” Thompson adds with a smile.

Running behind a veteran offensive line led by Ficklin, the Utah State rushing attack this season has been phenomenal. Thompson (890 yards and 14 touchdowns on 121 carries) and fellow junior back Gerold Bright (777 yards and eight touchdowns on 120 carries) are currently fourth and sixth in rushing yardage in the Mountain West, respectively, while the Aggies are third in the conference in rushing offense (216.5 ypg) and first in total offense (498.6 ypg).

" Darwin’s had an excellent first year, and I think he’s earned everything he’s gotten. "
Utah State coach Matt Wells, on Darwin Thompson

While that sort of offensive production might have come as a surprise to many people before the start of the 2018 season, it’s exactly what Thompson expected out of himself after transferring from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Oklahoma.

When USU head coach Matt Wells announced Thompson’s signing at a press conference last December, the fellow Oklahoma native declared that Thompson was “a self-made man, who has made himself into the young running back that he is right now based on sheer willpower and tremendous work ethic.”

Nearly a year later, Thompson has only further backed up that belief in Wells’ eyes.

“I did a ton of research about his character, and, of course, I knew a ton of people from where he grew up,” Wells says. “And what you see is what you get: a kid who is very humble, and a kid who is an extremely hard worker who’s always got a smile on his face and really thankful for the opportunity he has been given.

“Darwin’s had an excellent first year, and I think he’s earned everything he’s gotten.”

Prior to being recruited by the Aggies, Thompson actually researched Utah State and was aware that his future head coach was from Sallisaw, Oklahoma, before Wells could even play the “Okie” card. That geographic connection paid off, however, as did Thompson’s friendship with cornerback D.J. Williams.

The two faced off against each other in their final junior college season, but then ended up making visits to USU at the same time and verbally committing to the Aggies within minutes of each other.

“Our parents thought we hated each other because of the way we went at it on the field,” Thompson says. “But we were cool and ended up being roommates and working and pushing each other ever since we got here.”

After signing with the Aggies, Thompson almost immediately made his way west, settling into a new life in Cache Valley on Jan. 3. A few weeks later, he posted a video of himself walking around a snow-covered field at Maverik Stadium, along with the declaration: “A highschool kid with average grades. Average talent. And not one offer outta highschool! No d2 no d1 no NAIA.. I didn’t even start in highschool. I got it out the mud! With the right people behind me I taught myself how to be a football player at NEO. God blessed me. GODS PLAN.”

In a more recent tweet, Thompson pointed out how he didn’t start at any level of football growing up, from second grade through his senior year at Jenks High School because he was “too small” or “too slow” or “not elite.”

Thompson admits that he used those evaluations to help motivate him to become bigger, faster and stronger. Before this season even started, he gained notoriety on the national level when it was posted that he had posted a squat max of 560 pounds and a vertical leap of 40 inches.

“I plan to get that up to about 43 while working with Coach Dave (Scholz),” Thompson notes. “He’s just helping me sharpen that axe. He’s helping me get better and better every time I go in the weight room.”

The 14th-ranked Aggies (7-0 in the Mountain West, 10-1 overall) hope that Thompson is at his sharpest Saturday night when they travel to No. 21 Boise State (6-1, 9-2). Defeat the Broncos, and Utah State will host Fresno State (6-1, 9-2) in the Mountain West Championship game on Dec. 1 at Maverik Stadium.

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Either way, after a school-record 10 straight victories and a bowl game on the horizon, it has been a special season for Utah State that Thompson has helped propel forward. And, after coming in behind Bright in the first four games, he’s even had a chance to start the Aggies’ last seven contests.

“When I was younger, I had big dreams and a big heart, but I wasn’t big in stature so I worked and worked to get faster and stronger,” Thompson says. “And I feel like there’s a bunch of other guys on our team who have chips on their shoulders for one reason or another.

“That’s why I know this is the perfect place for me.”