MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Many call him the best Gopher to ever play football.
He played pro, across the border.
While that was fun, what he does now is rewarding for not only him, but thousands of kids.
Darrell Thompson is the executive director for Bolder Options. It’s an organization that lines kids up with adult mentors that also includes sports.
It’s what makes Thompson this week’s Minnesotan to Meet.
We started the interview at Thompson’s foosball table in his office.
Turns out, Thompson is a little better at football.
He played 60 NFL games and scored eight touchdowns.
And it all started so simply.
“My parents signed me up,” Thompson said. “I played in Rochester.”
Thompson played at John Marshall High School and immediately colleges and universities started looking at his skills.
Many Minnesotans might be surprised to hear the Gophers weren’t his first choice.
“I really wanted to be a Nebraska Cornhusker,” Thompson said. “I went there on my visit and I just didn’t feel it. I think you need to feel good about it, and feel good about the team. I really decided I wanted to stay closer to home. I thought there would be more opportunities here when football was done.”
But after becoming an all-time leader in career rushing yards in the maroon and gold, football didn’t end at the college level.
He went on to play for a team many Minnesotans despise.
The Green Bay Packers.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Thompson said. “I always tell people that I got drafted.”
When push comes to shove, he roots for Wisconsin at the NFL level, but we’ll let that go, because it was in the off season with the Packers that Thompson started volunteering for an organization helping thousands of kids.
“I had a couple kids tell me, ‘Thank you,’ and tell me about the difference that it made in their life to have somebody come back and spend some time with them,” Thompson said.
That’s when he knew he wanted to do more with Bolder Options.
“We’re an activities-based mentoring program,” Thompson said.
Kids ages 7-17 are given an introduction to a healthy lifestyle.
They have programs in his hometown of Rochester, along with Minneapolis and St. Paul.
“I also enjoy the intrigue of trying to figure out how to get them to start to believe and trust in themselves,” Thompson said. “And I think once a person has that, they’re going to call you back, they’re going to be the next person to run Bolder Options.”
Thompson is a father himself. He has two girls and two boys.
Dominic was a star volleyball player at Madison and now plays in France.
Indigo is also now playing Volleyball at VCU in Richmond.
Race and True are in high school and play a little of everything.
“There’s a little hope that there might be a football player that comes down the line,” Thompson said, “but I’ve told them many times, ‘I don’t play expect you to play football for me, or basketball for me or your mom or anyone else.’ You should do what you want to do and what you enjoy.”
But both parents are athletic. Just listen to how he met his wife, Stephanie.
“My sister played volleyball at Iowa, and she invited me to the end of the year volleyball party, I don’t know any guy who would turn that down, so that’s how I met my wife,” Thompson said.
After 20 years as husband, dad and executive director of Bolder Options, Thompson might just be the best mentor anyone could have.
“I love everybody. I’m the ultimate politician,” Thompson said. “It says peace at the bottom of my emails, that’s my signature, because I believe in it.”
When asked what people would be most surprised to learn about him, Thompson said that he makes breakfast for his kids every morning and always has.
The only rule: No pancakes, because they’re not nutritious.