Tyree Thompson calls his rise from janitor to possible UCLA starter ‘real surreal’

Tyree Thompson’s schedule once included classes, football practice and father-son time that was less than leisurely.

He would meet Lavell Thompson after his final evening class at Los Angeles Valley College to clean office buildings, dog shelters or anywhere else that contracted the elder Thompson’s janitorial service.


The drudgery didn’t end when the final trash can was emptied. Homework started when Tyree got home around 11 p.m. Then he would rise by 7 a.m. for another day of classes, workouts and tidying.

Thompson often wondered about the payoff. Starting at linebacker for UCLA seemed implausible for the former Mission Hills Alemany High star who figured that, at best, he might play for a Mountain West Conference school.

But there he was Friday afternoon, sweat beading on his face as he spoke with reporters while wearing a white Bruins practice jersey.

“It’s just real surreal that I made it this far,” Thompson said, “and I’m just grateful.”

He officially became a member of the team in February after UCLA inside linebackers coach Don Pellum watched some of his game footage from Valley College. The community college was Thompson’s second stop after two years at Sacramento State, including a redshirt season.

Thompson mused about coming to UCLA with friend Colin Samuel, a Bruins defensive back, after the team hired Chip Kelly as coach in November. Thompson’s only scholarship offer after the early signing period a month later was from Rhode Island.

He decided to wait and kept working out, studying and sweeping floors. Thoughts of quitting entered his mind.

“A lot of nights,” he said, “I didn’t feel like keeping going.”

Tyree Thompson sacks Chaminade quarterback Dymond Lee while playing for Alemany in 2014.
Tyree Thompson sacks Chaminade quarterback Dymond Lee while playing for Alemany in 2014. (Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

A call from Pellum revived his drive to persevere. Then the redshirt junior known for his speed and hustle went from backup to probable starter last week when linebacker Josh Woods was lost for the season following a knee injury that required surgery.

Thompson, who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 235 pounds, said Woods advised him to play reflexively.

“When you think too much,” Thompson said, “when the game starts, it all just gets mushed together.”

Sort of like the schedule he happily left behind.

Decision time

UCLA could pick a starting quarterback this weekend.


Of course, that doesn’t mean Kelly will divulge the winner of the race among Wilton Speight, Devon Modster and Dorian Thompson-Robinson before the Bruins’ season opener on Sept. 1 against Cincinnati.

“We’ll sit down as a staff on Sunday and go through everybody,” Kelly said, “so we haven’t talked about anybody here, there or anywhere at any position right now.”

Asked whether he hoped to have a starting quarterback in place by early next week to enhance the team’s game preparations, Kelly said: “We’re just hoping to make sure we all show up to play Cincinnati.”

Prep work

Left-footed Andrew Strauch punted to returners Kyle Philips and Darnay Holmes during practice to simulate the look the Bruins expect to see from Cincinnati punter James Smith, who also favors his left foot.

Like UCLA’s primary punter, Stefan Flintoft, Smith is on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award that goes to the top college punter in the nation after averaging 42.0 yards per punt last season to lead the American Athletic Conference.

Price drop

The Rose Bowl Stadium and Levy Restaurants announced new value pricing during UCLA games at the Rose Bowl, including $3 hot dogs, nachos and fountain beverages near Gates D and G as well as the student section.

UCLA gameday ticketholders can also gather in a new food and beverage park on the 18th hole of the adjacent Brookside Golf Club.

Among the 30 new menu offerings at the stadium are poke nachos, pistachio milk tea and street tacos with carne asada.


Running back Soso Jamabo attended practice after missing the previous three sessions, but was limited in his participation. Kelly said Jamabo was day to day while recovering from an unspecified injury. … Kelly said defensive end Marcus Moore and linebacker Je’Vari Anderson, also absent from practice, were day to day.