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Chris Murphy, Published November 06 2013

Diminutive running back helps fuel Rockets

Fargo - There isn’t much to Underwood junior running back Noah Thompson. He’s 5-foot-7, 157 pounds – one of the smallest player on the Rockets’ football roster – has a cast surrounding his right arm thanks to a broken thumb and has had some issues in his left knee this season.

He also has more rushing yards than anyone in the state of Minnesota by a couple of football fields, which is a big reason Underwood is playing in the Class 9-man quarterfinals Friday.

“He’s had an awesome year,” Underwood coach Chuck Ross said. “He didn’t have a lot of experience last year either. Each game he’s learning how to follow blockers better.”

Thompson has rushed for 2,121 yards and 19 touchdowns on 241 carries, averaging 8.8 yards per carry. His 2,121 yards account for the 27th most rushing yards in a season in Minnesota high school football.

Not bad for a guy who wasn’t supposed to start this season. A.J. Montgomery got hurt in Week 1 and Thompson responded with 328 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.

“It feels really good, but I have some minor injuries that are holding me back,” Thompson said. “I just love to get in there and run the ball.”

Thompson started playing football in eighth grade because of his size. That reasoning didn’t last long, seeing as he never really grew from there.

“I’ve always been a running back,” said Thompson, who qualified for the state track meet in the 800-meter relay. “One reason was because I was a little bigger in eighth grade, but, for some reason, I haven’t grown that much since.”

A broken thumb has held back Thompson a bit, but he’s still rushed for 440 yards on 68 carries in Underwood’s three playoff wins. If being smaller than everyone else is not stopping him, then a cast on his arm doesn’t have much of a chance.

“He’s unbelievably tough,” Ross said. “Broken thumb, had a knee problem in his left knee and played through both. He’s not very big, but he’s strong and he takes his licks out there. You got to be tough to play that position and get 20 something carries a game.”

Underwood is hoping to get Thompson healed before Friday’s game against Nicollet at Roseville High School.

“Unfortunately, he has the broken thumb right now, which eliminates some of what he can do, but hopefully we get that healed up this week and he can get back to carrying the ball and making cuts like he’s used to,” Thompson said.

Thompson epitomizes Underwood. Just as Thompson has made do with himself, the Rockets have made do with their surroundings, putting together a state tournament team in a city with a population of 341. Thompson says it’s been fun to watch, but he’s been the one people are watching.

“We lost a lot of our starters from last season,” Thompson said. “I wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out, but a lot of the guys really stepped up and made me a better person. I wasn’t quite sure we’d pull this off, but actually watching this fall into place has been the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548