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January 17, 2013

Thompson completes latest pass

Dylan Thompson has had a fairy-tale run lately, the kind of performances that will forever leave him a legend at South Carolina. Having already earned a spot by beating Clemson, Thompson relieved an ailing Connor Shaw in the fourth quarter of the Outback Bowl and calmly tossed the game-winning touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington.

Fans raved. Media swarmed. Thompson was one of the best stories of the Gamecocks' 2012 season, a backup perfectly content with his role, who had provided some of the biggest moments of the year without demanding playing time. Thompson was a celebrity, and knew that he'd never have to do anything else the rest of his career to always be fondly remembered at USC. His games were inspiring.

His off-the-field vision was more so.

Thompson and his mentor, Jack Easterby, had another idea in mind ever since the Clemson game, and not wanting to cause any distraction during bowl preparation, quietly worked on the details. Once the game was over and students began trickling back to USC from winter break, Thompson and Easterby launched their initiative.

The Bible Outloud is a project designed to read the entire Bible, verse by verse, on video within a year. Open to anybody, the idea is simple - pick up to five consecutive verses from the Bible (New International Version), video yourself saying them and post it at thebibleoutloud.com.

The group went public with it on Jan. 11. It's already received over 1,000 verses toward the goal, which is around 31,000 verses in the entire Bible.

"Honestly, it was just kind of a sit-down, talking-through thing with Jack Easterby," Thompson said. "We talk about life in general, and he helps me out with my walk. I went to him after Clemson, and I said, 'Jack, this is good, and I'm glad we won. But there's no way I should get this much attention. Chances are, someone will get saved, baptized tomorrow, and nobody will Tweet about it, Facebook about it, talk about it on TV, when in reality, that's much more important than winning a football game.'

"We came up with memorizing the Bible together out loud in a year. Pretty neat to see that this is a reality."

Thompson and Easterby knew that without asking for it, Thompson had a natural platform to push the idea. To help out, the two contacted some of the other most well-known USC athletes to appear on the promotion video, and Ellington, Michael Roth, Adam Matthews, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Marcus Lattimore all enthusiastically responded. The video explaining the project was quickly linked and Tweeted; the impact was immediate.

One of the first to post a video with his chosen verses was Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, who had met Thompson during bowl-practice week in Tampa. Thompson simply requested that Gardner, if he could, to maybe Tweet about it; Gardner did him a lot better.

"Literally five minutes later, he's got his verse memorized and he sent it to me," Thompson said. "I was shocked that he was that eager. (Florida's) Trey Burton, he texted me, said, 'I can't wait to do my video in the Swamp.' (Kansas City Chiefs quarterback) Brady Quinn, he's helping us out some. They're guys that want to see life be looked on on a much bigger scale than sports."

That's the entire goal. While many athletes are quick to praise God or write Bible verses on their wristbands or cleats, the project is designed to help spread that message to everyone, not just the athletic world.

"A lot of these coaches and athletes will say, 'Give God glory' at a press conference or on their (athletic) tape or something, but when they leave that actual moment, it doesn't necessarily affect people outside," said Easterby, executive director of The Greatest Champion Foundation and an invited character coach at USC. "It started out that way, because we're all in the limelight, so to speak. But we knew from the get-go that it wasn't going to be just athletes. Dylan and Marcus and I, really, anybody, we're in the community all the time and we see all the non-athlete influence we have."

They wanted to promote that idea and came up with the plan, then launched it after the bowl game. Despite what he's known for on the field, this is what Thompson wants to be known for; always open about his faith, he's equally open about his journey.

"Back home, I was portrayed as a Tim Tebow kid," Thompson said. "I really didn't live for Christ, and I made some really poor decisions. I kind of just broke down, told God I was sorry for the sins I committed, and I wanted a true honest relationship with Jesus Christ."

Thompson sought out Easterby, who had been at USC since 2005, directing the university's Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter and serving as chaplain for several of the Gamecocks' teams. Easterby helped Thompson find his way.

"There's one thing that I teach all of our athletes, when we have Bible study, is there's two types of people - there's people that love Jesus, and there's people that don't. And that doesn't mean they're bad or good, either way," Easterby said. "When Dylan came to South Carolina, he did not know the Lord, and he'd be the first to tell you that. And he underwent the transition that allowed him to see what living for Jesus is all about.

"Since he went through that transition, a lot of his teammates went with him. They were able to watch him change in front of their eyes. Now he's in the locker room and these other guys are saying, 'Hey, Jesus can change your lives, too.'"

Thompson wanted to spread his personal vision and make others feel as good about their relationship with Jesus as he does. The Bible Outloud is not designed to be pushy, it's designed to help those who may want to be helped.

"As an athlete, whether you want to or not, people are going to look at what you do," Thompson said. "All the guys are excited. (The project) is not just a temporary impact. If you make a top-10 play, it is an impact, but it's temporary. The impact we feel from this is going to be an eternal one."

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