Flowery Branch senior kicker Billy Thompson spent the offseason working with one goal in mind: gaining his coaches’ confidence – he wanted to be counted on.
That focus drove him to work diligently on his kicking game and it is why he worked hard in the weight room.
No amount of work, however, proved his desire to be counted on more than the events that followed an Aug. 26 car accident that claimed the life of his sister, Tori Thompson.
It was the Wednesday prior to the Falcons’ season opener that Thompson’s sister’s car ran off Calvary Church Road and it was Thompson’s coach, Lee Shaw, who took his senior aside to give him the news.
“It’s one of the most difficult things you have to do,” Shaw said. “I mean, how do you say that?
“That’s one of those things that’s going to stay etched on my mind forever.”
What will also stay etched on Shaw’s mind, and was according to Thompson one of the most overwhelming displays of what team means that he’s seen, is the way the rest of the Falcons rallied around one of their leaders.
“I left the hospital that Wednesday and had to come back to school to get my stuff and I got to the locker room right as practice was ending,” Thompson said. “I’ll never forget what the team did for me that night, how wonderful they were to me.”
“Our program is built on love,” said Shaw, who preaches to his team that high school football is about more than the 48 minutes spent on the field each Friday night. “You can talk about it, but until something happens – the proof’s in the pudding.”
Tori Thompson had taken that Friday night off work to watch her youngest brother’s senior year debut and was excited about it, as was her brother.
“She kept saying to me that she couldn’t wait until Friday, that she was coming to see me play Friday,” Thompson said. “(After the accident) I didn’t know what to think, but I knew I had no other choice but to play.
“She would have been mad at me if I didn’t.”
So two days after his sister’s untimely passing, Thompson led his team through the banner and onto the new Falcon Field.
Two days after his sister’s death, he converted 5-of-5 point after attempts and put 4-of-5 kickoffs in the end zone, pointing to the sky after each one.
“I wanted to tell her that I love her and that she was a part of everything I did that night,” Thompson said.
And she has been every Friday night since, as Thompson has emerged as the top kicker in the area. Through five games, the senior has converted on 27-of-29 point after attempts, 2-of-5 field goal attempts and the majority of his kickoffs find the end zone, just like they did that night against Stephens County.
“What he does for us is invaluable,” Shaw said. “He’s really remarkable, but the thing about Billy is that he’s one of our best athletes.
“He could play any position, he’s got great hands and he can throw, and you’ll notice that he’s usually making the tackle on those rare instances that his kickoff doesn’t go into the end zone.”
Thompson credits his father, Bill Thompson’s encouragement for his performance thus far. He also is focused on that which drove him in the offseason: a desire to be counted on.
“I’ll do whatever I have to do for this team,” Thompson said. “I want the coaches to know they can count on me and I want to help the defense. It’s easier for the defense if the offense they’re facing has an 80-yard drive instead of a chance to return and get a shorter field.”
And through five games he doesn’t fail to point to the sky, even if it has to wait until after he’s made a tackle on a return.
“Teenagers are short-changed,” Shaw said. “Billy’s resilient and as an adult looking at that, you learn about how to deal with adversity as much as you do when you’re teaching a lesson on how to deal with adversity.”