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For a guy who’s been nearly everywhere with his job, Anthony Thompson was mighty happy to be back home in Wilson.
Thompson, who has lived in Europe for nearly three decades after moving to London to play in the World League of American Football in 1992, made a rare trip home to spend some time with his family and friends and reminisce about the days when he was one of the best athletes to ever walk the halls of Fike High.
Thompson, who was widely known by his nickname, “Chock,” during his high school days, was asked to come home more than a decade ago to be inducted into the Fike Athletic Hall of Fame but, living in Salzburg, Austria, often found it difficult to plan a vacation around his busy work schedule as a sports director with the United States Department of Defense. After several induction ceremonies came and went, Thompson was finally inducted in absentia last winter, But he decided to come home for a surprise visit to see his mother and step-father, Dorothy and Sellers Jenkins, in Wilson.
“Oh, she was crying. She was happy,” Thompson said with a big grin over lunch at Dick’s Hot Dog Stand on Friday. “They had the door locked and I had to knock on the door!”
After two great years as a three-sport star at Greene Central, Thompson moved to Wilson from Greene County before his junior year and immediately made an impact at Fike. As a linebacker and running back, Thompson helped the football Golden Demons win their first 11 games in the fall of 1984 before losing in the second round of the state playoffs. That season remains his top memory, even if he struggles to remember the names of some of his teammates from 34 years ago.
“You might have to Google the archives for that one!” he laughed when asked who some of his backfield mates were at Fike that season.
Thompson became the fifth All-American in Fike football history during his senior season in 1985. He was a standout for head coach Harvey Reid Jr.’s Fike basketball teams and was part of a state championship 4x200-meter relay team on the track. After a standout football career at East Carolina, Thompson played sparingly in two seasons for the Denver Broncos, who drafted him in the 10th round in 1990. The next season, he had competition at the linebacker spot.
“That same year they drafted Mike Croel,” he said. “He was an All-American linebacker from Nebraska. So to make room for him, guess who had to go?”
After bouncing around training camps for the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns, Thompson headed to London for the 1992 World League season. He only played a season for the Monarchs of the World League but it set him on a course for the rest of his life. He started coaching in the World League, which later became NFL Europe, and then moved to Austria to help a friend coach semi-professional football, which Thompson played for a while.
Living in a foreign land and having to learn a strange language and customs wasn’t easy for the self-proclaimed “country guy” who grew up on Highway 58.
“It was a challenge but now you can’t get me to move back,” Thompson said.
He said there was never a plan to live in Europe for 26 years when he first went there to try to continue his football career.
“I just stayed,” he said. “I coached football and then I got into the DOD with the school system and I just stayed. No particular reason. … Now if I got an offer to come back here and coach, I might consider coming back.”
Thompson said that he does get homesick at times.
“No matter what, you always get homesick,” he said.
So what does he miss the most about home?
“Food!” he said with a grin as he eyed the forkful of hamburger steak he was about to eat.
Thompson, who speaks fluent German, said that Salzburg Nockerl, a meringue dessert, and schnitzel were his favorite Austrian foods.
Having been to every continent except Antarctica teaching and coaching football, Thompson said that he could have never imagined such a life when he was younger.
“Not coming from 58, no!” he said, before that he’s been blessed to have such a career. “You get to meet lifetime friends along the way.”
One of Thompson’s lifelong friends and fellow Fike grad, Kathy Batts, accompanied him to Dick’s. It’s connections like those, along with his family, that will keep eastern North Carolina forever in Thompson’s heart, no matter how far away he lives.
After lunch, he and Batts drove by Fike so he could see the stadium where he once was a big star.
“I could hear the crowd noise in my head,” he said.