Keye Thompson wants to be a leader.

The redshirt sophomore wants his third year at Ohio to be one where he can grow. In his seven starts for Ohio last season, Thompson found what worked to improve himself after being redshirted in 2018.

With that new found confidence, Thompson’s goal this year is to become a motivating force for his fellow linebackers. He wants to transfer the confidence he gained from his seven starts last season onto the younger players who are struggling to find a rhythm.

“When I'm out there and we're just doing individual work and stuff like that, I'm always harping on the young guys to do things right,” Thompson said. “I'm trying to teach them techniques, and then I hold myself accountable, too, by doing the same thing I've done on the field.” 

In Thompson’s eyes, he can only be a good leader if he can back up his words with his actions. If a player keeps harping on others to stop making mistakes, but then makes those mistakes themselves, all Thompson sees is a hypocrite. 

The linebackers have been mentally prepared for this season since camp started. Thompson isn’t the only one pushing others to do better. The entire linebacker corps has been hard on each other, making sure they find every flaw that can be reworked.

“We're a tight-knit, tight-knit group,” Thompson said. “Last year, at the beginning of fall camp, we had a thing called low-sit. So, if you don't make it to the ball, you do up-downs. This year, we just encourage each other to run the ball, and we push each other, and we compete every day.”

The bond between his teammates extends beyond the gridiron, though. Team bonding will happen at Thompson’s house every now and then where the players can unwind and relax. Most recently, Thompson brought his teammates over and held a cookout for them.

Of course, Thompson was on the grill. Redshirt senior Jared Dorsa couldn’t get the charcoal lit, so they had to move inside, and Thompson took over while everyone played Madden.

“We social distance, of course,” Thompson said. “But I mean we do little cookouts every once a while with a couple guys over and play Madden, and we're thinking about doing a little Madden tournament here soon.”

It’s all a matter of bonding. If a team doesn’t have good chemistry, it won’t last out on the field. Thompson knows if the group melds well together, he can focus on his own goals. And he is shooting for the moon this season.

Thompson, above all else, wants to be an All-American. It’s the end-all goal for him, and it gives him a reason to work harder than he does. He acknowledges it won’t happen this season, but it will be a slow climb to the top. His first step is to be first-team All-MAC and, hopefully, MAC Defensive Player of the Year.

“You’ve got to dream big, and to get there, you have to work hard,” Thompson said. “I wouldn't say that you should never not work hard. We've been preparing before the season got canceled. We came back and have been in the weight room and been running. Yeah, we had to take a week off for COVID issues, but the grind has never stopped.”

Winning the MAC Defensive Player of the Year would definitely back up the wisdom that Thompson is trying to pass onto his younger teammates. He may not know what his season will turn out like, but he can be sure what he wants to focus on.

He just wants to lead.