Motivation comes in slivers for K.J. Robertson and his Thompson Warriors teammates, when thinking about a special Friday night at Larry Simmons Stadium.
Perennial power Hoover High on the other sideline. Final game on a field where most of them grew up. The opportunity to play in the program’s first state championship game since 1982 and only the second time in school history.
All played a role in motivation. But, perhaps none of those make up the biggest portion of the motivation. The biggest piece is simple to identify.
“Nobody likes to lose,” said Robertson, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound outside linebacker and team leader for the Warriors. “Losing is one of the worst feelings ever, especially when you put your all into something. We never want to feel like that again. Our job is not to ever feel like that again.”
He pauses for a second. With a small smile, that actually might be part grimace, he continues.
“It’s almost like being selfish,” Robertson said. “You got to be selfish to play this game, you’ve got to be selfish to win this game. It’s selfish in a good way, that’s where we all are. We hate to lose. We go into every game thinking we’re not going to lose and believing we’re not going to lose.”
Robertson, and many of his teammates, know what it’s like to lose. Some of them were members of the Thompson team that finished 0-10 in 2014. They know the pain of that type of season. And, now, they now the joy of being 12-0.
“It’s just a blessing,” Robertson said. “All of us are taking it in. This hasn’t been done in a long, long time. For us to be one of the first or second to actually do it, we’re coming out here excited every day. During the season, we were just trying to get through it. Now, it’s like we really, really want this, actually we need this.”
During the interview, Robertson’s feet were firmly on a field where he literally grew up. At times, he would glance onto the field at Larry Simmons Stadium and relive memories of his younger days.
“When I came to high school games here, I’d see all the crowds yelling and I’d see all the big guys coming out here,” Robertson said. “I always dreamed of having little No. 7 going out there too. Just to finally be out here and be part of it and doing so well with it, it’s just great.”
Friday will mark the final time that a Thompson High varsity game will be played at Larry Simmons Stadium. Next school year, the Warriors will begin playing at the on-campus stadium at the new high school.
Thompson head coach Mark Freeman looked at options to play Friday’s Class 7A semifinal game at a larger venue. When Thompson and Hoover met on Oct. 27, there was a crowd estimated at over 12,000 at the Hoover Met watching the Warriors’ 32-25 victory that clinched the Class 7A Region 3 title. Freeman thought that even more fans might want to see the semifinal matchup between the two teams.
However, he couldn’t do that to his players.
“That was 99 percent of the reason for keeping the game here,” Freeman said. “It’s going to be their last game here, they grew up on this field, but specifically they earned the right to be the home team. Yeah, we could have looked at moving it and could have played in front of a lot more people. At the end of the day, you want to care about your family first. Those kids grew up here and they want to play here. This will be the last Thompson game at this stadium and they want to be part of that. We kind of felt like that was their temperature. We decided we were going to play here.”
Robertson leaves no doubt how special that is for everyone involved with the Thompson program.
“It’s the last game at Larry Simmons, that’s huge,” Robertson said. “To be the last group to do it and do it in such spectacular fashion is great. And to go against a powerhouse like Hoover, we’re going out with a bang here. It’s just one step closer to the real stadium we want to get to – Bryant-Denny.”
Robertson, as he’s done all year and really for the past four years, will play a big role in trying to take that huge step. Robertson is one of three linebackers with over 100 tackles this season, joining fellow senior Jalen Rayam and junior Will Conner. He’s also added 12 tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery that he nearly returned for a touchdown in the first meeting with Hoover.
Stats don’t come close to measuring his true worth to this defense and this team.
“From a person, he has just off-the-charts character,” Freeman said. “He’s our inspirational guy. Jalen’s quiet. K.J. is the guy who will jump around, get them going, get on them if they need it. He leads by example. He’s kind of like that leader for us. He’s very emotional and a great team player.”
Robertson credits his fellow linebackers with pushing him to be better.
“We have competition with literally everything,” Robertson said “During the game, we see who can have the most tackles, the most tackles for loss. In practice, we have the most batted down ball or whatever. We make it a competition on whatever we do. We have competitions just eating food. It’s crazy, but it’s all good competition. It’s healthy and makes every one of us get better.”