Perhaps there's no one better to guide Thompson in the art of survival in a big man's game than Austin. After all, Thompson was attracted to West Virginia by watching Austin play on TV the last two years from his home in Katy, Texas. He saw a guy with the same body type become a full-fledged college star and figured he could emulate that.
That includes one of Austin's survival tactics, which is stepping out of bounds, especially if the extra one or two yards he might gain by challenging a bigger defender aren't that critical. Austin gets criticized for it all the time, but it has helped him get where he is without injury.
"You've got to deal with a lot of people talking about how you're soft and how you run out of bounds,'' Austin said. "But at the end of the day I know I'm a small player. I've been small since I was in Pop Warner. And my cousin Shawn [Waller, a coach in Baltimore who helped develop Austin's game] always told me, 'If you can avoid a hit, do it.' ''
Now he's passing that on to Thompson.
"Tavon's talking about it to me,'' Thompson said. "He says I don't need to take that many shots on the field because it's going to take a toll on your body. I haven't mastered it like he has, but I'm getting there.''
Thompson's coaches look at Thompson's lack of size and pretty much see Austin and treat him the same way. Sure, it's a concern that he might get injured, but there are ways to avoid that.
"The only thing I tell him is to make sure you don't get hit. Don't take a solid shot. That's about it,'' said offensive coordinator and receivers coach Shannon Dawson. "Take Tavon, for instance. I'm not trying to compare ability. I'm just saying that Tavon's not a big guy, either. And this is what I tell Jordan: You never really see Tavon get hit. Jordan's got to be like that.''
It helps, too, that Jordan came to a school that runs a wide-open offense. Not that he had much choice, of course, seeing as his other college options besides West Virginia were pretty much Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston or playing baseball.
But perhaps if he was going to survive it wasn't going to be in one of those other systems.
"A lot of it depends on what offense you play in,'' Dawson said. "If you had Jordan Thompson playing running back in an I formation, he'd probably get hurt the first game. But in our offense, because of the spacing, [defenders] are running around trying to cover grass and they're lucky just to get somebody on the ground with an arm tackle. You very seldom see just a blind-sided shot. It happens, but not that often.
"But I wouldn't advise him to try and run over somebody.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.