A key figure since opening its doors in 2000, it is a relatively common sight to see Nate Thompson offering a Carvers Bay High School student some sort of guidance.
Typically the one wanting to learn what is on students’ minds, the roles were reversed earlier this week. Glancing at a host of press clippings, photos and other mementos found throughout Thompson’s office, the student hesitantly fired off a question she wanted to ask upon walking in the room.
“Coach T, why are you the smallest person in the picture?,” she said.
At a stressful time of year for Thompson – his Bears football squad preparing for their Lower State 2A semifinal against Barnwell on Friday – the question served as the perfect distraction for the longtime coach.
“I don’t know exactly why ... but all I know is I better be,” he said in a joking manner.
On most occasions, Thompson finds himself one of the smallest in terms of height in any crowd. Despite his diminutive frame, the Carvers Bay head man’s contribution to the school and its football program cannot be overlooked.
You find out who you are when things aren’t going exactly how you want them. These kids are tough. They’re talented. I felt last year they could’ve arrived, but it didn’t happen. But we have a good group of seniors, and that along with the juniors and sophomores behind them, we felt good about this one too. And they’ve delivered.
Carvers Bay football coach Nate Thompson
During his nearly two decades walking the sideline – 17 at Carvers Bay, and two more at what formerly was Choppee High School – Thompson’s teams have won 166 games. On two occasions, his teams have gone on to win state titles, earning three Lower State titles during his tenure.
Eight of his squads have also won 10 games or more in a season. On Friday night, the Bears seek to add another to the toteboard.
In front of players standing taller than 6 feet and others weighing greater than 300 pounds, Thompson had the full attention of coaches and players within range of his voice. Though choosing to keep his words few, he made sure to emphasize his belief in them and that they’ve overcome bigger odds.
“I received a letter from the University of North Carolina, and it offered some sound advice,” he said. “The most physically and mentally strong teams win, especially this time of year. With that in mind, you can’t spend practice laughing, giggling and farting ... you do that and you’ll get the fart knocked out of you.”
Though receiving the opportunity to reach the top of the mountain on multiple occasions, Thompson said he would love to experience the sheer glory of winning another state title.
Certainly, the hope is for every team to accomplish the goal. But few Bears football players have been forced to endure the program’s recent rough patch, adding to the coach’s dogged enthusiasm when speaking to players.
It’s fun being a part of this tradition. We hadn’t won region in three or four years, so it really meant a whole lot (to get back to that level).
Carvers Bay defensive lineman Byron Young
Following a 2013 campaign that saw the Bears come a touchdown from a state title, the program experienced a pair of losing seasons – something rather unusual for one accustomed to racking up wins at an astounding rate.
“It’s just one of those things,” Thompson said. “We had some good guys come through the past two years, but sometimes things don’t go your way.”
The 2016 season has seen Carvers Bay return to form. Since starting 2-2 – three of the four games against teams making the playoffs this year – the team has won seven of its past eight games, enough to win a Region VII-2A crown.
“It’s fun being a part of this tradition,” said senior standout Byron Young. “We hadn’t won region in three or four years, so it really meant a whole lot (to get back to that level).”
More impressive to Thompson, however, is how the team has handled adversity, pushing ahead regardless of who is on the field any given Friday night.
“You find out who you are when things aren’t going exactly how you want them,” he said. “These kids are tough. They’re talented.
“I felt last year they could’ve arrived, but it didn’t happen. But we have a good group of seniors, and that along with the juniors and sophomores behind them, we felt good about this one too. And they’ve delivered.”
But even when times are at their highest, a mixed bag of bad news sometimes arrives at the doorstep. It came in the form of multiple diagnoses of a sprained ankle to multiple members of the Bears football team. Among them was quarterback Janaz Sumpter and running back Levi White, who also serves as the team’s backup quarterback.
Never one seeking an excuse, Thompson instead put his team’s focus on Friday night, and the opportunity to make a splash despite potentially missing a few key pieces.
“Regardless of who goes out there and plays, no one is going to feel sorry for you,” he said to the team. “We believe in you, but us coaches cannot play the game for you. It’s up to you to settle things on the field.”