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Healthy again, Ute receiver Bryan Thompson looking forward to playing in his old neighborhood at USC

Utah Utes wide receiver Bryan Thompson catches a pass and runs for a touchdown against the Idaho State Bengals during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Utah wide receiver Bryan Thompson catches a pass and runs for a touchdown against Idaho State during their game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When he was a kid, Bryan Thompson used to go to the famed L.A. Coliseum frequently, as he had an older brother who played for USC and he lived just five minutes away in Inglewood.

“I’m familiar with that stadium,” said Thompson, who is coming off his best game as a Ute with two touchdown catches against Idaho State. “My brother, Dale Thompson, played for USC during the Reggie Bush era (2004-07) and I used to go to games to watch him.”

This week, Thompson has the opportunity to go back home, to be on the same field where he watched his brother and others play, when the Utah football team takes on USC Friday night (7 p.m. MT). He’s one of 10 Ute players from the L.A. area with another 10 who come from within a couple of hours, from San Diego to Ventura to Bakersfield.

While he’s excited to go back home this week and see his mother and grandma and friends, Thompson also doesn’t want to make too big of a deal about it.

“We treat every game like every other, so it’s not that special,” he said. “We don’t treat anybody differently, we prepare the same every week. We’ll continue to prepare how we always do for a tough team.”

Thompson had a rough start to his Ute career after coming in with high expectations following a stellar high school career in which he caught 77 passes for 1,377 yards as a senior at Moreno Valley High School. He played in 12 games with one start in 2017, but had just five catches on the season. Then last year he was saddled with injuries and played in just four games, but was able to save a year of eligibility due to the new redshirt rule.

He was projected as a starter before the season began and after catching just two passes in his first two games, he caught a pair of touchdown passes from Tyler Huntley last week against Idaho State, an 82-yard bomb in the first half when he got loose behind the secondary and a 23-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter.

“It’s been a long time coming, I’m blessed to be back on the field,” he said. “My team put me in the right spot, so I get my number called and make those plays. This is the best I’ve ever felt.”

Huntley praised his sophomore receiver after the game, saying, “He’s doing a great job of getting open and making big plays down the field. He brings another element to the game. I love having him out there.”

Even though he grew up nearby and had a brother play there, Thompson said he didn’t have much interest in attending USC, who did show some interest. Instead, he was happy to move up to Utah, saying, “I feel like you grow up if you’re far away from home.”

Of his experience in Utah, he said, “It’s better than I thought. God puts his strongest battles to his strongest warriors. I’ve been through it up here, and it’s made me a stronger man. I wouldn’t take that back for anything.”

Perhaps his only regret about Utah is that it doesn’t have a men’s track and field team. He has excelled in track since he was 4 years old. When he was 9, he was on a Junior Olympic team and was part of the fastest 4X100 relay team in the country.

He’s also 25-foot long jumper and one of the fastest players on the team.

But not the fastest.

That honor goes to defensive back Javelin Guidry, who he ran against in high school.

“Oh yeah, he ran 10.1 (100) in high school,” he said. “He’s probably the fastest player in college football.”

When asked after Saturday’s game if he was “impressed” by Thompson’s performance, coach Kyle Whittingham at first said he wasn’t, then later clarified it to say he “wasn’t surprised” by how well he played against Idaho State.

“He’s what we expected him to be and he’s finally healthy to do his thing,” he said. “We know he’s a really good player. He’s got a great skill set, he’s big, 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he can run, he’s got great hands. It didn’t surprise me, because he’s a really good player. What he did today is what we need from him all season long.”

Although it’s taken a while to get going Thompson said he’s looking forward to bigger things in the future.

“I had those injuries, but it wasn’t my time to shine,” he said. “So now I’m going to make the best of every opportunity.”

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No. 10 Utah (3-0) at USC (2-1)

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Friday, 7 p.m. (MDT)

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