Running into the Record Books

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBIA FALLS – When Nate Thompson gains momentum, he doesn’t slow down until several defenders are on the ground and a few records are threatened. And while that’s an appropriate description of his individual game performances, it’s also the story to his entire season.

Thompson, a senior running back at Columbia Falls, has rushed for 1,357 yards on 163 carries through six games, an average of more than 226 yards per game on 8.3 yards each carry. The next closest rusher in the conference, Libby’s Corey Chapman, has 592 yards rushing with one more game played.

The Columbia Falls High School unofficial rushing record, set by Neil Brunett in 1981, is 1,603. Thompson needs 246 yards – 123 per game – over his final two regular season games to tie the record, and 247 to break it.

If Columbia Falls makes it to the state tournament, Thompson will have more chances to either break or pad the record. As the top team in Northwestern A, the Wildcats, 3-3 (2-0), control their own destiny. Even with a loss, they could still finish in the top three, good enough for a state berth.

Nate Thompson, center, jokes around with his teammates during a break in football practice at Columbia Falls High School.

Coming off a bye weekend, Thompson should be fresh for Friday’s away game against rival Whitefish. Then the Wildcats finish their regular season at home against Ronan on Oct. 22.

“It’d be all my hard work since sixth grade paying off,” Thompson said of the record. “I’ve always wanted to be like those great players I always saw. I never thought about being one of them until I had a few good games to start the season, and then kept going and here I am.”

At 6-0 and 185 pounds, Thompson is big, but not the biggest bruiser on the field. And he’s fast, but not the fastest guy on the field. The qualities Thompson possesses are harder to define. He has tremendous vision. He understands where his fullback and linemen will be. He reads and picks apart defensive schemes. He’s really smart.

“He’s obviously very intelligent, I think maybe the valedictorian, the top student in his class,” said head coach Bill Coleman. “He’s an intelligent individual and he’s an intelligent football player too.”

He added: “He understands that this game is about the 11 guys on the field, not just him, and he understands how he fits into the scheme. Nate’s got a high football IQ.”

Thompson has maintained a 4.0 throughout high school and is contemplating a career in the medical field. But just as Thompson is looking ahead toward college, college is looking right back at him. The running back said he’s spoken with Montana State University, Montana Tech and Carroll College for football.

Coleman is impressed with Thompson’s ability to seamlessly adapt to the team’s Wing-T and zone schemes. Football can be complicated and if a running back’s not careful, he’ll get lost in the changing formations.

“He understands what we’re trying to do in our schemes and he knows how to maximize his role on every play,” Coleman said.

But Thompson said his success is dependent upon the guys up front on the offensive line. He is quick to thank them, and the rest of his teammates.

“They block extremely well,” Thompson said. “They understand their responsibilities on each play and that translate into good games for everyone.”

Because his father, John Thompson, is a long-time coach, Thompson has been surrounded by football since he was young. The elder Thompson is currently the activities director at Columbia Falls High School and a coach on the football team. He was a three-time state champion coach at Wibaux.

“Growing up, I was always hearing about who the hardest workers were and I tried to imitate them,” Thompson said.

Since sixth grade, Thompson estimates he’s missed only 20 days of working out. Coleman said he works as hard as any player he’s been around in his 25 years of coaching. Thompson said Josh Wilson, a former Wildcats’ running back, is one of his inspirations.

“Josh Wilson was phenomenal in the weight room,” he said. “He’s a big reason I got so into weightlifting.”

Nate Thompson chats with teammate Dan Busick, not pictured, during Wildcat practice in Columbia Falls.

Thompson’s tenacity in the weight room spills out onto the gridiron, and when he runs the ball, he keeps a simple philosophy in mind: “Not one person is going to take me down and I’m going to try to score on every carry.”

“I’ll give the defender a good pop so he knows the next time he tries to tackle me, I’m not afraid to get hit,” Thompson said.

In his last game against Polson, a 25-20 Columbia Falls victory, Thompson rushed for 280 yards on 43 carries. Polson was previously unbeaten and ranked No. 3 in the state.

“We kind of feel that it was a historic win for our program,” Coleman said. “If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. Polson has been the best team in the conference probably the last eight years.”

After watching his son build up his strength and skills for years, John Thompson is as proud as a father can be.

“Both me and his mom, we’re so proud of him,” Thompson said. “We’re proud of him for his work ethic. We don’t have to push him; we’ve never pushed him. He basically does this stuff on his own.

“He’s developed this work ethic over his life and we’re happy that’s he’s having the opportunity to have that pay off.”

Nate Thompson stats:

-Total rushing yards: 1,357

-Second-best total in conference: 592

-Yards per game: 226

-Yards per carry: 8.3

-School rushing record (Neil Brunett, 1981): 1,603