Ten years after walking out of a federal prison in Big Spring,
Texas--where he'd served 17 months for conspiracy to distribute
cocaine--former Oklahoma football star Charles Thompson is deep
into the business of saving people. Thompson isn't a preacher,
but he teaches inner-city youngsters about the game of life. "You
envision yourselves as young athletes, and you want to be on the
cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED," Thompson tells audiences of dreamy,
would-be NFL and NBA players. "Well, I made it! But it wasn't in
a uniform: It was in an orange jumpsuit, wearing handcuffs."
Thompson, a wishbone quarterback, was the Sooners' top rusher
when he was a sophomore, in 1988. He was so quick afoot that an
NFL scouting service rated him the nation's 10th best tailback
prospect. However, in February 1989--with Oklahoma's football
program already in turmoil because of NCAA rules violations and
allegations that players had been involved in a shooting and a
rape--the 21-year-old Thompson was arrested for allegedly selling
cocaine to an undercover officer. "I made some very bad
decisions," he says, "but I don't harp on how I shot myself in
the foot." When Thompson got out, shortly before his 24th
birthday, he was offered a chance to return to the gridiron at
Central State, an NAIA school in Ohio. Thompson led the Marauders
in rushing, and after graduating in 1994 with a B.A. in
marketing, played three years in the CFL and the World Football
League. When a shoulder injury ended his career in '96, Thompson
moved to Oklahoma City.
The death of a childhood friend in a car accident a few years ago
drew Thompson closer to religion. "I began to get in tune with
myself spiritually and developed a personal relationship with my
Lord, Jesus Christ," Thompson says. "I'm grateful for the gift of
eternal life, which millions of dollars and playing in the NFL
could not give me."
When Thompson, 33, isn't speaking to school assemblies and youth
groups or at home with his wife, Kori, and their three sons,
Kendal, 9, Casey, 3, and Cade, 1, he works as a national account
manager for Lifeline Communications, a long-distance service
provider that donates 10% of its monthly revenues to Christian
organizations and ministries. Thompson is grateful that by
recounting his fall from grace, he can help teens avoid trouble.
"I'm a great speaker, I can communicate well, and I'm a
motivator," he says. "Now I have an audience that will pay
attention to Charles Thompson not because he scored touchdowns,
not because he could run faster than anyone else, but because he
lived a story that needs to be heard."
COLOR PHOTO: PAUL B. SUTHERLAND/THE DAILY OKLAHOMAN (COVER)
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL
"I made some very bad decisions," he says, "but I don't harp on
how I shot myself in the foot."