Aspiring chess player Keytaon Thompson prepares for his next move in Virginia’s new offense – The Virginian-Pilot

Keytaon Thompson’s younger brother, Kayden, had a problem.

He had taken up chess, enjoyed the game, and decided to compete against other young players in Louisiana, where the family lived.

Kayden needed someone to practice against, so his older brother Keytaon — a star receiver in Virginia — came to the rescue.

“He wanted competition, so he could get sharper,” Keytaon Thompson said. “I told him I would help, so I started reading a bunch of books.”

Within a month, Thompson said, he had become good enough to occasionally beat his brother.

“That’s how I approach something new,” he says.

And that’s how Thompson is approaching this season as a wide receiver with the Cavaliers.

Thompson is known as a versatile player — a quarterback at Mississippi State and then a running back last season with the Cavaliers. New Virginia head coach Tony Elliott said Thompson may run the ball occasionally this fall, but his primary role on Virginia’s offense will be as a receiver.

“That’s what we focus on,” said Elliott, who coached wide receivers during his years as a Clemson assistant.

That’s fine with Thompson, a grad student in his senior year with the Cavaliers.

“I focus on the wide receiver,” he said. “And I worked on the kind of things that are essential for a wide receiver to know.”

Elliott said Thompson is an extremely talented player, a lock for an NFL career. All that’s missing, according to Elliott, is the technical background — something Thompson never really acquired when he transitioned from quarterback to receiver.

“I watched him grow as a technician,” Elliott said.

Can Thompson translate his growing insight as a chess player to football?

“It’s a great game,” Thompson said. “There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of strategy.”

Thompson enjoyed learning the intricacies of chess. He approaches his wide receiver education the same way.

“I work on a lot of things that seem a bit unnatural,” he said. “But they’re part of being a wide receiver.”

Some scouting analysts think Thompson has an advantage as a receiver because of his experience as a quarterback. He understands how roads work and how to beat defenses.

He could have turned pro after last season and likely would have been an NFL draft pick. But Thompson, like Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong, decided to return for another season.

Thompson last season had 78 receptions for 990 yards and had five or more catches in each of the Cavaliers’ last five games. He was named to the All-ACC preseason team at the “all-purpose” position.

Now Elliott wants him to do even more.

“He now understands that Coach Elliott will be on to him – each day.” Elliott said emphatically.

“I don’t want him to just reach the NFL,” Elliott added. “I want him to stay in the NFL.”

Thompson said of Elliott’s push: “He’s not lying about it. He’s on me every day.

“Coach Elliott and I have a great relationship,” Thompson added. “I’m having a blast in training.”

Elliott and the rest of the coaching staff are trying to get him “out of my comfort zone,” Thompson said.

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“I’ve watched guys recently who have gone to the NFL and been successful,” he said. “That’s what I want. And I want to have a career there.

Virginia coaches want to ease the pressure on Armstrong and receivers, and rely more on the ground game this season. It’s good with Thompson.

“We’ll be using the running game a bit more, and that should help us all,” Thompson said, adding that defenses won’t be able to focus on receivers like they sometimes did last year.

“I think people will like the attacking changes. Our attack should be harder to stop.

This will be Thompson’s sixth season of college football, and he wants to make the most of this final campaign.

“I’ve been playing longer than anybody else,” said Thompson, who turns 24 on Oct. 23. “Guess I’m old, huh? I try to help other guys, share my experience with them.

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