By Lindsey Young, For Vikings.com
When Tyrus Thompson steps on the field for practice every day, he is thinking about one thing: his family.
He will tell you there are many reasons people play football: for pride, for money, for a pure love of the game. But for Thompson, those things are only secondary.
"All those things count for me, too," Thompson said, "but I know that I'm playing for more than just myself. Sometimes you are in pain, or things get stressful, and you want to stop — but you know there are other people depending on you. That gives you the extra motivation to keep pushing."
Family is a theme long-engrained in Thompson. The son of a U.S. Army paratrooper, Thompson learned the importance of family from a very young age. His relationship with his parents is incredibly valuable to him; in fact, he chose his jersey number to represent his mother's birth year. Thompson's father instilled values in him that he continues to recall on a daily basis.
"First and foremost, my dad taught me a lot about how to persevere through things when they get rough — in life, in football, whatever — and you just have to keep pushing through them," Thompson said.
Even in the ups and down of camp, whether he has a great practice or a more difficult one, Thompson remembers what his dad taught him and continues to work hard.
Thompson hopes to teach his own children similar priorities. He and his wife have a 2-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter, and the rookie takes his role very seriously. While there are certainly challenges to being a young parent, it takes only a couple of minutes with Thompson to realize he wouldn't trade it for the world. His kids are his world, and he values off-days not so much for the rest, but for the opportunity to spend more time with them.
In college, Thompson drew serious attention as a junior and senior at Oklahoma. The lineman got some experience at both right and left tackle, but he stayed at left for his final season, starting 13 games in 2014. He also earned first-team All-Big 12 honors as a senior.
Thompson didn't always know if he would make it to the NFL; now, there is no doubt in his mind that he is meant to be here.
"When I started playing a lot better my junior year, I thought 'Hey — I can really make this happen,' " Thompson said.
That year, Thompson's son was born. The timing seemed perfect.
"At that point, there are things you hope and pray for."
Draft sites originally projected Thompson to go around the third or fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, but the lineman fell to Round 6. Although he admits it was discouraging, the drop gave him that much more motivation to work hard and make sure he keeps a roster spot in Minnesota.
Head coach Mike Zimmer has moved Thompson around a bit, trying him out at both guard spots and tackle. Most of his recent work has been with the second team offensive line at left guard.
That could continue when the Vikings visit the Cowboys at 6 p.m. Saturday. Although he was born in Germany while his father was in the Army, Thompson's hometown became Pfluegerville, Texas, about three hours south of Dallas. It's where he became a top-notch recruit.
Thompson never played guard at Oklahoma. He will tell you it doesn't matter, though. He is an offensive lineman, and he will play wherever he is most needed on that line.
"I'm going to do whatever the coaches tell me to do," Thompson said. "At the end of the day, I'm trying to make the roster, and I'm trying to break the starting lineup. I have work to do before I get to that point, but I'm taking it day by day."
Overall, Thompson has had a good camp. He's working hard to dispel the "sixth-round" label, and coaches and fans alike are seeing some positive things.
Thompson hopes that his hard work on the field is paying off and that he will play a key role for the Vikings this season. He has high expectations of himself—the rookie knows he has what it takes.
When all is said and done, however, Thompson has not lost sight of his No. 1 priority.
"Family's always going to be there," Thompson said. "You have to enjoy your family and take everything else in. At the end of the day, they're going to have your back."