By Brian Paglia
The first few months after football betrayed Scott Thompson, after the jungle of the National Football League swallowed him and spit him out swiftly, he cast an imposing shadow over the men in suits he met in New York City, for few people at the prestigious accounting firm Arthur Anderson weighed 280 pounds or had a 19-inch neck.
"I think I scared people," Thompson said. "To walk in a room weighing 280 pounds with a 19-inch neck, people were like, 'Who is this dude?'"
Thompson was burly then, because that is the calling-card of defensive lineman - to plug their titanic bodies into the holes of the line of scrimmage. Where running backs hope to find space, linemen like Thompson hope to eliminate it. And Thompson was good at eliminating space.
So good that the Riverdale-native will be inducted into The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame on October 30 in Charleston, S.C., for his football career with the Bulldogs.
"It is an honor to be recognized," Thompson said, "to reflect back on those accomplishments."
After playing at Riverdale High under local coaching icon Bill Kennedy, Thompson was a defensive lineman at The Citadel from 1983-1986. While there, Thompson dominated at his position like few have at The Citadel.
Twice he was chosen as an Associated Press All-American, first on the first-team in 1986, then on the third team in 1987, when opposing offenses began to double-team him. He led the Southern Conference in tackles in 1986 with 183, an unfathomable amount by today's standards. Consider that Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux had the most tackles of any lineman on the team in 2008 - with 38.
Thompson signed a free agent contract out of The Citadel with the Falcons in 1987. His jersey number was going to 93. He was going to play more football.
Then he tore ligaments in the top of his right foot just two games into the 1987 preseason. Thompson spent the next six weeks on injured reserve. After rehabbing, Atlanta reactivated Thompson one morning. That afternoon they released him.
"I started playing football when I was 5," Thompson said. "I was 22 then. I didn't have any illusions beyond that. I wanted it to work. I honestly think if I had played offensive guard I could've played in the NFL for 10 years, but as a defensive lineman it's a slightly different skill set.
"I just made the decision that I was ready to move on."
So Thompson took a job offer from Arthur Anderson. He went back to doing aerobics and martial arts, trimming down from 280 pounds to 225. He got a new wardrobe, and the start of a new chapter in his life.
"It was a difficult transition," Thompson said, "but I was very excited about going and learning something new at such a great firm as Arthur Anderson."
But what about the transition from Riverdale to The Citadel for a self-proclaimed poor kid from the south side of Atlanta? What about sharing a dorm room with the aristocratic son of a wealthy family? What about that roommate who was the son of a Jordanian general?
It was more than Thompson had imagined.
"I can't say I was fully enlightened about what The Citadel experience was going to be about," Thompson said. "It's just a unique experience for a young man. It's a great place to go and be thrust into a variety of experiences that will shape your life because of the people that you meet."
But what about the people he met at Riverdale? What about playing football under Bill Kennedy from 1979-82; about wrestling for another local coaching legend, Jackie Green, who was also his position coach; about all the people he grew up with that keep him coming back to his high school reunions every time?
"I'll tell you," Thompson said, "it was an unbelieveable school. From the principle all the way to the head coach. We were just very fortunate to have the kind of school we had. The administration, the teachers, the coaches. It was a perfect place for a kid to grow up."
Thompson will have some of his former Riverdale teammates watching in Charleston when he's formally inducted into The Citadel's Hall of Fame, a poignant reminder of where his athletic journey began.
"Riverdale's where it all started," Thompson said. "That transition from boyhood."