When Khmari Thompson was navigating the recruitment process as a football prospect in Georgia, he made a request to each college coach who reached out to him.
“Let me run track,” he said.
Even in an era when athletes specialize in one sport at increasingly younger ages and football often takes top priority over others, Thompson said every program that offered him a football scholarship agreed to his condition. So when he committed to Missouri in November 2017, he knew his first spring on campus would call for plenty of back and forth between Faurot Field and MU’s track at Walton Stadium.
So far, he’s pulled it off. With spring football over, Thompson will be an alternate on Missouri’s 400-meter relay team at this week’s SEC Championships.
Thompson is far from the first Division I football player to run track — former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and former Chiefs return man De’Anthony Thomas, among others, both did so in college. But dual-sport football players have been a rarity at Missouri over the last five years.
“It’s gone pretty smoothly because both track and football are helping me balance both,” Thompson told The Star. “Coach (Barry) Odom and Coach (Brett) Halters are on the same page, so it’s been pretty smooth for me.”
During Missouri’s offseason workouts in February, before spring football started, Thompson said his typical day began at 5:30 a.m., when he participated in the football team’s conditioning program. By 7 a.m., he was at track practice. A few hours later, he’d head to class before returning to the Missouri Athletic Training Compex for football meetings in the afternoon.
Once spring football practices began, Thompson swapped out that afternoon meeting with a football practice.
“It’s a lot of responsibility because football has so much to it,” said Natasha Brown, MU’s associate head track coach. “It’s not like track, where you work out, go lift weights and you’re done. There’s meetings and film with all this stuff. It’s encompassing of their life.”
Thompson, who signed with Mizzou out of Central Gwinnett High School in Georgia, was considered a “late bloomer.” He ran track in high school and only started playing football during his senior year. Still, his speed and 6-foot-1 frame were enough to land football offers from MU, Purdue, Kansas State and Illinois.
Thompson played in just three games during his freshman year — MU was deep at receiver. But a few losses to graduation, including deep threat Emanuel Hall, should afford Thompson more playing time this fall.
Missouri’s last two-sport athlete was Winnetonka’s Marquise Doherty in 2015-16, who split time between the gridiron and baseball field. Doherty wasn’t around for any of MU’s spring practices in 2016 and solely focused on baseball for one season before transferring. He finished his career at William Woods.
Thompson is the lone two-sport athlete participating in a revenue sport, and he has been able to stay in the good graces of both coaching staffs by committing to and practicing with both teams.
Brown, who understands Thompson’s priority is football, regularly texts wideouts coach Garrick McGee to inform him of Thompson’s performance in practice and at meets. She comes up with separate workouts for him based on what he did with football team a few hours earlier. Thompson doesn’t have to lift with the track team because he does so at football, and he typically skips the rest of the track team’s 30-minute warmup to start practice.
“Every day that he comes to practice I’ll ask him, ‘What did you do today?’” Brown said. “He’ll tell me what it is and I’ll adapt the training to it. Because he’s already going to have done the plyometric stuff in football. I just have to take the stride pattern he’s using for football and duplicate it to match track. It’s not an undoing, but it’s altering of what he’s doing.”
Brown said Missouri could compete for a conference title in track on a sprint team made up solely of MU wide receivers. Freshman wideout Jalen Knox was a high school track star in Texas, running the 100-meter dash in 10.66 seconds and the 200-meter dash in 21.54. Kam Scott ran 21.59 in the 200-meter dash at Manvel High in Texas. Slot receiver Richaud Floyd ran the 100 in 10.64 at Gulfport High in Mississippi.
Brown said all those times, especially Knox and Scott’s 200-meter times, would be very competitive in the conference.
So why don’t more Missouri players try to double up like Thompson?
“Some of the guys, they think they’re fast, but they’re not ‘track fast,’” Odom said. “There’s a fine line there. You walk out to an SEC meet and it’s like the mini-Olympics.”
Brown said football players sprint in bursts — just for the duration of a play. Track requires an athlete to cover a certain amount of distance with no whistle. That lowers the number of football players who would be a good fit on her team.
And even if a football player has recorded a great time in an event as a high schooler, that doesn’t mean the athlete will maintain his speed after adding muscle. To see if football player can make it as a collegiate runner, Brown first looks at his sprint mechanics.
“You could be real quick for 40 (yards) but we don’t have a 40,” Brown said. “We’ve got a 60 (meter), 100 and a 200.”
Thompson’s best run with the track team came during the winter season, when he was able to solely focus on track. Football’s offseason conditioning program ramped up closer to spring football, which is when he started balancing both.
Thompson placed fourth in the 200-meter dash at the Mizzou Open in January with a time of 22.82 and eighth in the 60-meter dash at the Missouri Collegiate Challenge in February at 7.16. Spring ball has limited his availability for meets, but in March he placed sixth in the 100 at the Herm Wilson Invitational, in Wichita, Kansas, at 10.88.
Earlier this year, Mizzou offensive coordinator Derek Dooley called Thompson, who had a strong spring, one of MU’s best-conditioned players. Thompson has track to thank for that.
“They really go hand-in-hand,” the receiver said.
While Thompson, Brown and Odom have been able to make the arrangement work for this season, it’s unclear how sustainable it is. Thompson will presumably become a bigger part of Odom’s offense now. And as a health science major, Thompson’s classwork will also get harder.
Should Thompson become an All-America or NFL Draft prospect, Brown would understand if Odom’s staff told her that Thompson could no longer compete because of the risk of injury. But given that track isn’t a contact sport and would keep him in shape during the offseason, Brown is, for now, optimistic about having him all five years.
She said Thompson would have a good shot of making the NCAA Championships during the indoor season if he sticks with both sports.
“If he can get to nationals and contribute more to football, that’s pretty impressive,” she said. “I would love it if that, in time, (the football staff) sees there’s a benefit to track.
“Then we can get all the receivers to come out.”