With the offense putting forth its best efforts, the game on the line and the ball in the opponent's hands, many sit on the sidelines and hope for the best. Yet, usually no matter how many points the offense puts on the board throughout the game, it's the team's defense with whom the fate of the outcome lies. This is the unit who defends the lead that has been earned in earlier quarters and it's the defense that takes hope away from the opposing team as the clock ticks down. It is the defense - Penn’s in particular - that has played, and will continue to play, a major part of why Penn football has been so successful.
With a young offense, the Quakers are putting a lot of pressure onto the shoulders of the experienced defense, to defend not only the work of the offense, but also the success of Penn football. With the Quakers’ defense consisting of a strong veteran secondary, including senior captain Kevin Stefanski, many Quakers seniors have found themselves stepping into a leadership position. For senior defensive back Duvol Thompson, he's found this year to be a chance to come into his own and prove that he is a driving force of what has kept the Quakers in the hunt for their third-straight Ivy League title.
The Cleveland, Ohio native began playing football in the sixth grade, shortly after his family moved to Chicago. The young athlete found his home with the Harvey Colts where he learned the ins and outs of football, and grew to love the sport that would become such an important part of his life.
Thompson grew up aspiring to be just like his older brother (who played football at Northwestern). "My brother is five years older than I am so we never played on the same team, or actually even the same school. We went to different middle schools and high schools. Although he is older than me we have always been competitive, whether it was playing in the backyard or just the silent competition of a younger brother wanting to be as good or better than his older brother."
Like many young athletes, Thompson didn't focus solely on football throughout his lower school education. "In middle school, I played a ton of basketball and even a little soccer, but when I reached high school I began to focus more on football and track. There was a time when I believed I was a pretty good basketball player, but I realized over time that football was a much better fit for me."
Like many young athletes, Thompson found that his work in other sports during the off-season only helped to improve his play during the season that mattered football season. "I'm a football player at heart; track is something I used to become a better all-around athlete."
After being named all-conference, all-area and academic all-state, along with receiving honorable mention for All-State accolades and being named conference Most Valuable Player, Thompson was faced with making his college decision. An important asset to any team, Penn was lucky to have him decide to play his game in Philadelphia.
"Making the college decision was somewhat easy. Penn is the best of both worlds, both academics and athletics. Also when I visited Philadelphia I had the best recruiting experience compared to other schools. From the coaches, to my player host (Vince Alexander), to the city of Philadelphia, I felt very comfortable with my decision."
Thompson's presence was seen instantly on the field. In his freshman campaign, the defensive back was ranked 11th in the Ivy League in interceptions, and recorded 10 tackles, including six solo stops. Thompson continued to be a dominant force on the field for the Quakers in both his sophomore and junior seasons. In 2002, Thompson aided the Quakers in their dominance of the Ivy League playing in all 10 games and finishing the championship season sixth on the squad in tackles with a career-high 34 (22 solo) stops.
As a junior, Thompson's individual efforts were recognized as he was named first team All-Ivy League. The defensive back ended the 2003 campaign with 43 tackles (26 solo), returned five kicks for 157 yards, averaging 31.4 yards per return, and picked off his only pass of the season in the overtime win against Yale. There was no doubt that Thompson would be an invaluable player on the Quakers' defense throughout his senior campaign.
Thompson realizes that a lot of people have influenced his success over the years, both on and off the field. "My football idols include both Champ Bailey and Ray Lewis. I admire the way Champ Bailey plays the defensive back position. He can do whatever is asked of him and more. I also admire the way Ray Lewis is completely focused on the game and plays from whistle to whistle."
Yet Thompson also recognizes the forces that have impacted him outside of the football world. "Outside of football I'd have to say I look to my parents. My mother and father have worked so hard to raise my sister, my brother and myself. Not only have they been successful with us, but also they have done so much for the community and give so much of themselves. Not to mention the strong wills they both have. When I think of any positive qualities/characteristics I have, I know it's because of their influence.“
Thompson also credits many of the people he has had the chance to play with for impacting his football career. "Players from past seasons have impacted me tremendously. Guys that have played through injuries because of determination, some that were incredible athletes, some who could play under pressure, and those who came to play every single down and wouldn't let an opponent get the better of them. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to play with some incredible people as well as incredible players."
While athleticism is something Thompson definitely has, he knows that his hard work has paid off throughout the years. "I believe that I've improved to a point where I don't have to think about football anymore, I just try to play and let it flow. Thinking about the game should be before the game; while I'm playing, I like to react. Thinking while playing makes my reaction time increase, and for defensive players the ability to react is critical to being successful. My defensive back coach Drew Christ and defensive coordinator Ray Priore have helped me learn that this aspect of my game is important to making me a better player."
Head Coach Al Bagnoli has seen gradual improvement from the senior defensive back throughout the years als well. "Duvol comes from an athletic background and was certainly an asset right from the start. He's had a stellar career, but has certainly improved his consistency of play throughout the game. He's become much more consistent from the first to the fourth quarter. Duvol does a lot of little things correctly. He's always been a strong player and person. Power-for-power, he is one of the strongest players we have, from having a great run game to being one of the surest tacklers on the field," Bagnoli said.
As an experienced player, Thompson has seen himself move more into a leadership position this year than he has in the past. "I definitely think I've stepped into a leadership role on the team this year. I know I am expected to make plays and I accept that challenge. I am not the most vocal player, but hopefully people can see what I put into the game."
Whether it's on or off the field, Thompson has shown that he can and will lead. "A few different players look to me for advice about situations whether it's on or off the field, and that's what I'm there for. The best advice I have for younger players is to relish every moment you get to play in a Penn uniform."
Coach Bagnoli is well aware of Thompson's position as a leader on this Quaker squad. "The kids who have the most accolades have to lead, no matter what, and Duvol is certainly one of them" Bagnoli added. "Duvol has really good work habits both on the field and in the weight room. He sets a great example for the younger guys on this team."
This year, Thompson's efforts, along with the rest of the defense, are not going unnoticed as their experience is definitely helping the Quakers continue their winning ways. Yet for those in the defensive backfield, this season is just like any other. "Since I've been at Penn, the defense has always been a strong point of our team. Every single game that I've played here we have come ready and prepared to compete. This season hasn't changed how anyone on the defensive side of the ball has prepared to play every game or every down."
Coach Bagnoli looks at this year's defense as one of the most important parts of the team. "Right now, our defense is one of our lone consistencies (along with punting). They've come out ready for every game. On this team in general, there is tremendous experience on the defensive side of the ball. Eight or nine of our starters are seniors, and there is certainly a direct correlation between experience and success."
For Thompson, the season has already been a memorable one, with a trip across the country under his belt. "That was the first time I have ever been to the West Coast. It was great being able to go with my teammates and play San Diego. It was important just to get our season started off on the right foot. But I look forward to visiting the West Coast again."
Spending time with his teammates both on and off the field is one of the best parts of being a member of the Quaker team for Thompson. "The best part of the team is the people. From the players in the locker room, to the coaches, the equipment staff, the alumni, and the media staff, they all make the experience that much more enjoyable.”
When Thompson isn't on the field he takes the time to train for the sport he so enjoys and relax with his friends. And as his senior campaign comes to a close, Thompson will surely make the most of the last few games that remain in his collegiate football career. Already this season Thompson has shown his strength and agility, whether it be in kickoff returns or tackling. His strength on and off the field as a leader will definitely help shape the future of Quakers’ football.
Written by Meghan Goddard, C'05, athletic communications assistant