Linebacker Donnel Thompson has been a Badger in spirit since he was 6 years old, when he stood in the front yard of his family’s home in Madison, Wis., and held up signs directing drivers to park there. During slack times, he would run over to Camp Randall Stadium to sell soda or programs.
“Those were terrible teams,” he said. “I wasn’t making too much money.”
Thanks in part to Thompson, stadium vendors have had more customers in recent years.
Thompson will play his final game as a Badger on Saturday, when Wisconsin faces Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Having seen so many of his dreams come true--he was a walk-on as a freshman, won a scholarship as a sophomore and is a two-year captain--he wasn’t going to let a sprained ankle idle him.
Thompson, Wisconsin’s third-leading tackler, injured the ankle Sunday during the Badgers’ first workout in California. He didn’t practice again until Wednesday, but he said Thursday he’s ready to go.
“At first it was, ‘This is the Rose Bowl. Ankle, come on,’ ” he said. “Then I realized it wasn’t so bad. If you’re going to turn an ankle, it’s fortunate to do it the first day, so it has time to heal.”
After breaking his arm in his senior year of high school, Thompson had few college offers. But his father, Curtis, who was his high school coach, was determined he would play for Wisconsin. He was thrust into action on the kick return team in his first game. “I was really excited to be out there,” he said. “It’s all been just unbelievable.”
His fondest football memory, he said, was sitting with his brother, Bryson, a Wisconsin outside linebacker, and marveling over the team’s 38-31 Rose Bowl victory over UCLA last January. The Badgers are favored to win again, but Thompson knows they have reason not to be overconfident.
“Cincinnati,” he said, referring to Wisconsin’s surprising 17-12 loss Sept. 18. “That was probably one of the biggest upsets of the decade. It teaches everybody a lesson, that you can’t go out there and roll out your helmet and expect to win.”
Instead of rejoicing because Stanford’s Walters injured his wrist and won’t play Saturday, several Badgers expressed sympathy.
“We feel bad for the guy, first of all,” linebacker Chris Ghidorzi said. “He’s a senior and he had a heck of a career at Stanford. You hate to see that happen to a guy.
“Injuries are part of the game, but you wish he was able to play.”
Cornerback Jamar Fletcher, who would have covered Walters, didn’t believe teammates when they told him Walters wouldn’t play.
“At first, I thought it was a joke, because Ron [Dayne] is always playing around,” Fletcher said. “I was shocked, but I had to shrug my shoulders because we still have to play a game. I’m disappointed, but this isn’t just about us two.”
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Bob Cosgrove was surprised to hear his Stanford counterpart, Kent Baer, claim the Badgers don’t respect the Cardinal. He guessed Baer was trying to create a rallying point for his team.
“We respect everybody we play,” Cosgrove said. “They’re the Pac-10 champions, we’re the Big Ten champions. They are a very good team and we expect a very good football game.”
The Rose Bowl Hall of Fame will add three members today. The honorees are Al Hoisch of UCLA, who in 1947 became the first player to return a kickoff for a touchdown; Dave Kaiser of Michigan State, who kicked a 41-yard field goal with seven seconds left to defeat UCLA in 1956, and longtime broadcaster Keith Jackson. The induction and annual luncheon will take place in a tent south of the Rose Bowl, near Area K.