Oak Hill’s Caden Thompson runs the ball during a football practice Thursday in Wales. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

WALES — The Oak Hill football team knows it’s probably not going to get a rousing pre-game speech from Caden Thompson. Or some fiery words when the fourth quarter is set to begin.

The Raiders are happy, however, with where Thompson does do his talking: On the field, as one of the hardest runners and best tacklers in Class D.

“He’s an extremely quiet and mild-mannered kid, super respectful,” Oak Hill coach Chad Stowell said. “But on the field, I can always kind of tell, he’s got a look in his eye. It doesn’t come out with volume, it comes out with presence. He’s engaged and ready to go.”

The Raiders are 3-1 and hanging in third place in Class D, and their senior running back has been a big reason why. Thompson has emerged as Oak Hill’s do-everything back, a punishing runner and, as a converted wide receiver, an asset in the passing game. He has 399 yards rushing through the four games with three touchdowns, and has caught passes for another 80 yards and a score.

“I love to hear when coach calls my number,” Thompson said. “I wanted to come out and I wanted to prove how good I was out here. I wanted to show people that I can play.”

Oak Hill’s Caden Thompson smiles to fans after scoring a touchdown during an Oct. 2 football game against Bucksport at Oak Hill High School in Wales. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

On the defensive side, as a defensive end and outside linebacker, he’s Oak Hill’s leader with 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks, and he’s forced three fumbles, recovered two and returned one for a touchdown.

Thompson’s not loud. His impact is.

“He’s a beast on offense and defense, two-way player, he’s always making big plays for us,” said Oak Hill quarterback Jackson Arbour, a teammate of Thompson’s since third grade. “We call him the workhorse for a reason. He doesn’t complain, he just does his job and he does it to the best of his ability all the time.”

As a freshman, Thompson was on varsity, but was a face in the crowd of Oak Hill skill players, and he played receiver after coming up through youth football as a running back. He moved to running back as a sophomore and played more, but felt the disadvantage of playing among upperclassmen.

“Sophomore year, I felt like I had a lot more pressure on me, because I was just a sophomore playing varsity, and I was a lot smaller,” Thompson said. “This year, I’d say (there’s) less pressure on me. I’ve just got to go play a game.”

Two years of growing helped. Stowell has Thompson pegged at roughly 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, and the defenders who try to bring him down find that out for themselves. Thompson, Stowell said, runs “violently.”

Oak Hill’s Caden Thompson runs through drills at defensive end with a teammate during football practice Thursday in Wales. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“The way we run our offense, he doesn’t get a large amount of lead blockers because we try to spread out a little bit more and run into gaps,” Stowell said. “When you do that, there are times when the defense guesses right and they can be in the wrong gap at the wrong time for us, and that’s when Caden’s physical ability to either run through somebody or make a move to go by somebody has been really beneficial.”

Thompson said he knew coming into this season that he could be able to make it harder on would-be tacklers.

“I got taller, got bigger and got a lot more physical, which helped a lot,” Thompson said. “I just try to find the open area, and if there’s a player or two in there that I’m not going to try to run away from, I’m just going to try to get through them any way I can.”

It’s the same story on defense, where in the last game against Bucksport, Thompson went for a tackle, ripped the ball from the Bucksport player’s hands, and ran 83 yards for a touchdown, one of three scores of more than 50 yards he’s had on offense and defense this season.

Oak Hill football player Caden Thompson is enjoying a standout fall. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“He’s got an amazing sports I.Q.,” Stowell said. “You can tell he knows about the game and thinks about the game a lot. … I think he uses that more on defense than on offense. I think offense is almost instincts, it’s what he’s always done.”

Another instinct Thompson has is how to approach his teammates. A Raider player struggling through a bad game or a missed assignment can expect to hear from Thompson, but he won’t be hearing criticisms and put downs.

“I kind of play silently, but if somebody messes up or if somebody accidentally forgets something, I’m not going to be rude about it. I like to be positive,” Thompson said. “I like to boost my teammates up. … Not many players are really good with tough criticism, it kind of brings them down.”

“He’s not going to be that type of guy that’s going to get in front of all the team and make a super-huge motivating speech,” Arbour said. “But if he goes up to you in a very small setting and he’s saying something, all eyes are going to be on him. You’re going to listen to what he has to say, and you’re probably going to take it.”

For Stowell, a first-year head coach, it’s just the kind of leader he was hoping for.

“He’s very consistent. You know exactly what you’re going to get from Caden,” he said. “He always sets a really good example for everybody else in the program.”

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