“Definitely, the most fun I’ve ever had playing the game.”
Baltimore Raven Zach Thompson, on his time as a Stone Bridge Bulldog
Stone Bridge High School’s own Zach Thompson is a bona fide NFLer.
The 24-year-old born-and-bred kid from Ashburn – who dominated both sides of the ball on dad Mickey’s superlative gridiron squads from 2005 to 2008 – now gets a regular paycheck from his current employer, the Baltimore Ravens. He’s Employee No. 92.
“It’s definitely pretty cool, you know. It’s something you dream of, I’ve dreamt of,” Thompson told Viva Loudoun. “So now I’m living a dream.”
Thompson holds a spot on the Ravens’ injured-reserve list, the result of two concussions the outside linebacker suffered during the preseason.
But instead of unceremoniously showing him the door – as can easily happen in the cutthroat, perform-now world of professional football – Baltimore opted to keep the Loudouner in a Ravens uniform.
“It feels good,” said Thompson of his team’s choice to keep him on the roster. “It could have gone a couple different ways, but I’m still part of the team. I’m happy to still be part of this organization.”
For Thompson to claim one of those rarest of jobs – NFL player – he’s put in lots and lots of hard work: long hours, almost daily, for years. His work is nowhere near stopping, nor does he want it to. Thompson told Viva Loudoun that he thrives on hard work, a mindset given to him directly from his parents Mickey and Kathy, “the two hardest workers I know. They made us to be physically and mentally tough.”
By “us,” Thompson refers to his siblings: twin Patrick, his teammate at both Stone Bridge and Wake Forest University; younger brother Joe, a college-bound athlete himself now starring as the Bulldogs’ quarterback; younger sister Amy, already gaining notoriety on the soccer field after her freshman season.
Zach is hardly a stranger in his hometown. He makes it to as many Stone Bridge games as he can. He recalls his days in silver and Carolina blue with much fondness.
“People can say they love college football or the NFL, but there’s nothing like playing Friday nights with your best friends. My time at Stone Bridge was awesome. The  state championship, my dad, my brother, everything.”
His dad is Mickey Thompson, the man who’s compiled an incredibly successful record as the only head football coach the Bulldogs have had in the school’s 15-year history. Zach talked of his father’s influence.
“My dad’s had the largest impact on me and my success because he’s taught me everything I know,” Thompson said. “Even now I call him up and a five-minute conversation with him really helps me.”
Mickey is not the only local guy who really helps Zach. To this day, the NFLer makes regular visits to strength guru Dave Mikel, head conditioning coach at Performance Edge in Leesburg.
“He’s a guy who’s really helped my development as a football player,” said Thompson of Mikel. “I’ve been working with him, I think, going on eight years, so I’m grateful for all that he’s done for me.”
Thompson’s work at Performance Edge began in high school and continued through his excellent four-year career as a starting defensive end for Wake Forest University, where he registered 151 tackles in 44 games as a Demon Deacon, including 22 for lost yardage and 11 sacks of opposing quarterbacks.
Through it all, the well-spoken Thompson earned his degree in Communications.
But the book-learning he truly wants to put to good use is what comes out of an NFL playbook. Soon after the 2014 draft, the new grad inked a free-agent deal May 11 with the New York Jets. He saw the field in three of New York’s four preseason games, recording five tackles.
The Jets released Thompson on August 30 of 2014, and he was about to board a flight to D.C. to work out at home and wait for another call. He didn’t have to wait that long.
“My agent called and said the Broncos wanted me,” he recalled. “So I immediately changed my flight to Denver.”
Thompson was signed to the Broncos’ practice squad where he remained for almost three months before Denver’s numbers squeezed him out. He was released on Nov. 18.
Over the next month, the lineman/linebacker was called in for workout after workout, traveling to display his skills for Cleveland, Kansas City, Carolina and the Jets again. He was in a Dallas hotel on Dec. 16, all set to perform for the Cowboys‘ brass.
“I’d just woken up to head over to their facility for the workout, and that’s when I got the call from my agent.”
It was the Baltimore Ravens. He’d been signed to the practice squad.
Pay no attention to the fact that he got cut only a week later; that’s purely a numbers thing. Baltimore needed more offensive line help, so the defensive-minded Thompson got nudged out.
But – like ‘NFL’ jokingly stands for – not for long. In less than three weeks he was a Raven again, signed to a reserve/futures contract. He’s been in Baltimore’s mix ever since.
This past preseason, Thompson saw action in two tilts, mainly on the kickoff unit but getting some snaps at outside linebacker, registering a tackle assist against Atlanta – the same game in which he absorbed his second concussion in a month.
“Obviously the concussion didn’t help, but I’m still here and still part of this team,” he declared.
Being on the field during an NFL game, Thompson said, brings demands on one’s body as well as one’s mind. The quickness with which decisions are made and pre-snap calls are given is matched only by the pure foot-speed of the players themselves.
“It took me about one camp to get used to it,” he said. “There are so many checks based on the offense’s motion. Everything could change with the coverage, so you have to know what you’re doing.”
Thompson was a defensive end and tight end at Stone Bridge, earning all-region accolades as a senior in both spots. With Wake Forest, he was exclusively a defensive end. He’s mainly been an outside linebacker in the pro ranks, which suits him just fine.
“I think I can really show a lot more of what I can do,” said Thompson, noting that he’s learned zone coverage for the first time from his NFL experience. “I think I’ve adjusted pretty well and I feel comfortable back there now.”
When it comes to feeling comfortable, the well-traveled professional football player has just the place for that: The family and home environs of the Thompson household, the Stone Bridge community and Loudoun County at large.
Dad Mickey remains his mentor, mom Kathy still his inspiration, twin bro Patrick among his best friends, and he’s constantly talking with little bro Joe and sis Amy. Though he is paid to don the purple of the Baltimore Ravens, Zach Thompson is grateful to have been a silver-and-blue Bulldog from Ashburn’s Stone Bridge High School.
“Definitely, the most fun I’ve ever had playing the game,” he stated.
VivaLoudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Jason S Rufner
for © Viva Loudoun Media Communications