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'Sounds like me': Matt Rhule leaves strong early impression on Nebraska QB Casey Thompson

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Sam McKewon, with the Omaha World-Herald, talks following the press conference introducing Matt Rhule as the new Nebraska football head coach at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln on Monday, November 28, 2022.

LINCOLN – Casey Thompson lingered on the second-floor balcony of the Hawks Center watching as Matt Rhule finished his last round of interviews on the turf below.

The Nebraska quarterback didn’t see the main press conference in person Monday afternoon, instead streaming it on BTN while watching game film in North Stadium. He studied the Iowa game and the college quarterbacks he usually checks in on like Caleb Williams (USC), Bryce Young (Alabama) and CJ Stroud (Ohio State).

Thompson also pulled up the last three South Carolina games to see what Nebraska’s new offensive coordinator – Marcus Satterfield, who joined Rhule on Sunday – likes to do.

“Diverse offense,” Thompson told The World-Herald. “Really good in the drop-back passing game, play action. Good in RPOs, very creative in the run game, lot of motions.”

Rhule is just getting to know the current Huskers, meeting with them for the first time in person Monday morning. He and Thompson conversed at length Saturday, the QB said, and again individually Monday.

Thompson still has one year of eligibility remaining as he weighs whether to stay at Nebraska or depart to another school or the professional level – “Today is Nov. 28 and classes start in January; I have some time,” he said.

He’ll be getting to know new coaches while also rehabbing and recovering from a partially torn labrum on his throwing shoulder that he played through since the season’s third game against Georgia Southern. That injury stayed under wraps during the season, he said, and required him to play through pain and a somewhat limited range of motion. It also affected his ability to throw a consistent spiral and cut his deep-ball range from 60-70 yards to 50.

“I wanted to play through it for the team, for Mickey Joseph, to win the game and because I love football,” Thompson said. “Also I knew – just playing my cards right – I knew if a new coach came in I wanted him to be able to see me have a body of work in the 2022 season.

“I have two full seasons of film – I’m good now. I have some stability.”

The results were pretty good. Thompson completed 63% of his passes for 2,407 yards with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He was clearly NU’s best option at the position all season.

The quarterback doesn’t know any of the coaches personally but has some secondhand connections with Rhule, who recruited the player a bit out of high school. They faced each other twice when Rhule was at Baylor and Thompson was with Texas. The Longhorns won 23-17 in 2018 before Baylor took the 2019 meeting 24-10.

Said Thompson: “I just remember he had a really good defense, really good offensive linemen.”

Thompson has already heard from PJ Walker, who broke most of Temple’s offensive records while with Rhule from 2013-16 and is currently on the roster with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. The Husker QB also spoke about Rhule with former Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer – who shined under Rhule in Waco – through mutual connections.

“Everybody I’ve talked to so far said he’s very thorough, he’s detail-oriented, he loves football and he’s a grinder,” Thompson said of the coach. “Sounds like me.”

Rhule said he’s met with a number of current players one-on-one already, declining to get into details about Thompson. They’re still getting to know each other.

“You start with listening,” Rhule said. “I’m going to tell everyone, ‘Hey, this is how we’re going to do things.’ I’m going to share a vision with everybody. If it’s for you, great. If it’s not for you, I understand. I want every student-athlete that’s in our program to be happy.”

Thompson said he’ll also be watching to see what happens with former NU interim coach Mickey Joseph and other future staffing decisions. Players and coaches need to trust each other, and this was a first date.

But first impressions of Rhule? Those have been only positive as the coach looks to set a culture of competition and hard work that Thompson can definitely identify with.

“(Rhule) has a plan in place,” Thompson said. “He knows how to take over a program and win games. But it starts with relationships, development and recruiting. We’re just taking it one step at a time right now.”

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