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TD CLUB: The Citadel's Thompson visits after back-to-back SoCon titles, loss of key players

TD CLUB: The Citadel's Thompson visits after back-to-back SoCon titles, loss of key players

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One group of Bulldogs was out of town heading into a conference showdown on Thursday, while the leader of another group of Bulldogs visited to speak to the Orangeburg Touchdown Club. 

With S.C. State's football team already in Durham, N.C., for their Thursday night game against North Carolina Central, Bulldogs head coach Buddy Pough was not in attendance to speak about his program.

Legendary S.C. State head coach emeritus Willie Jeffries handled both his emcee role for the OTC along with Pough's regular duties of introducing the guest speaker.

So, as the two-time defending Southern Conference champions at The Citadel took a step back to assess things during a bye week, Bulldogs head coach Brent Thompson made the drive from Charleston to Orangeburg to share a little bit about his program.

The Citadel -- which won 10 straight a season ago and finished with a 10-2 record -- opened this season with lopsided wins against Newberry (31-14) and Presbyterian (48-7) before struggling to make a comeback for a win at East Tennessee State (31-25) this past Saturday.

"Last year was a terrific year for us at The Citadel; it was all about sustainability for us, as we kept the same (support) staff and we knew we had a good football team," said Thompson, in his second season since being named the 25th head football coach at The Citadel. "All we had to do was not screw it up.

"This second year has been a lot more challenging. About two weeks after our loss to Wofford in the (FCS) playoffs, I found out we were going to lose three of our starters, two on defense and one on offense, as they were being dismissed from school. That was my first real challenge of being a head football coach in college."

Within two months, Thompson had been told by AP First Team All-American defensive back Dee Delaney Jr. that he would be transferring to play his final season at Miami, and after that, 2016 Jacobs Blocking Award winner Isaiah Pinson Jr. told Thompson he was done with his commitment to playing football and would also be leaving the team.

Soon it was time for some serious examination for the coach who in his first season as a head football coach in college led the Bulldogs to a single-season school-record six road victories. Suddenly, the coach who earned a college degree in peace, war and diplomacy needed to find a philosophy to put himself at peace about how his team would approach each on-field battle on Saturdays.

"Your program philosophy is supposed to guide you through the tough times," Thompson said. "So I had to examine things and decide what our program philosophy should be.

"In my 17 years as an assistant coach, I had learned nothing about what it means to be the head coach at all. I knew nothing about what it is to guide your football team through some tough times, losing five (would-be returning) starters before your next season. I read books, I listened to podcasts, I talked with other coaches. I realized, no matter what I put together, it wouldn't be my own."

Thompson narrowed his team's philosophy down to The Citadel's core principals of honor, duty and respect.

"No. 1, if we don't operate under these principals, all the rest doesn't matter, win or lose on the football field," Thompson said. "No. 2, we want to build men of character, men who make proper decisions. What we're finding is that they don't know how to make proper decisions and need to be taught and led to make proper decisions.

"No. 3, we needed a theme for the year. The them for this year is Nobody Cares. It sounds hard and it sounds rough, but nobody cares that we lost 5 starters we thought we would have back. Nobody outside of our team cares. Nobody cares about anything unless you find a way to get the job done. We've proven that we can win at The Citadel."

Holding the last two conference championship trophies has a way of bringing on challengers.

"Every single team in the Southern Conference is gunning for us, and they don't care that our schedules and our requirements and our days are different from theirs," Thompson said. "You've got to find a way to get the job done, even when it seems like everything is against you.

"I will say this about the players at The Citadel - every time that they've been challenged by the fact that they've got to wear a uniform, get up early and make their beds, go to class and do all that is required of them, they have responded. When the odds are stacked against them, they find a way to engage."

The Citadel plays next at Samford on Saturday, Sept. 30, at 3:30 p.m. 

Also at the OTC meeting on Thursday, Lake Marion junior running back De'Andre White was recognized as the ATI Physical Therapy Offensive Player of the Week, and Andrew Jackson Academy sophomore linebacker/defensive back Trey Pulaski was recognized as the ATI Physical Therapy Defensive Player of the Week.

Next Thursday's OTC meeting will host guest speaker Jim Donnan, a former N.C. State quarterback and former head football coach at Georgia.

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