Blitzing Bobby; Rob Thomson was hard to stop in high school, college, and coaching

Southington wasn’t able to get back to that level the following year, but the 6-5 record in Thomson’s senior season finally broke the Blue Knight drought with its first back-to-back winning season in 10 years and ushered in a new era of winning that has continued through the present. With success came the scouts, and it didn’t take long for Thomson to rise to the top.

The 6-foot-3 senior announced his decision to play for Syracuse University in a year that saw only three other Connecticut players recruited to a division one program.

“It’s a really tiring process. You want to talk to all the schools. I even got involved with the Ivy League schools even though they didn’t offer scholarships,” he said. “I really wanted to challenge myself to go to a division one school, and Syracuse had such a phenomenal history of football just like Southington High School did. I really wanted to be a part of that as they tried to rebuild.”

At the time, the Orangemen were at a low spot with nine losing records over the last 15 seasons and just two bowl appearances in 20 years, so Thomson was the perfect fit. Once again, he would be instrumental as a team returned to prominence.

He worked his way into the lineup as a freshman and Syracuse rallied to an 11-0 regular season and a tie against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. As a sophomore, he worked himself into the lineup as a situational defender. The team rallied to a 10-2 record and beat Louisiana State University in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

Thomson wasn’t a star yet, but he earned a varsity letter in both seasons.

“I played behind an All-American, Markus Paul, but I was able to get enough playing time to letter all four years,” he said. “That doesn’t happen too much up there. I remember subbing in for him in my first two years. I was on all the special teams, and that was pretty exciting.”

Once again, Thomson’s junior season was the breakout year. In 1989, Thomson finished fourth on the team with 80 tackles and his seven interceptions were ranked 10th nationally. Syracuse rallied to an 8-4 record and a one point victory over Georgia in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Day. Thomson was named as a UPI All-America Honorable Mention and was a District II Academic All-American.

Suddenly, he was thrust into the spotlight with postgame interviews and magazine covers, but the Southington native took it all in stride. He spent his mornings in class, his afternoons working out in the weight room and the practice field, and his evenings watching films and going to study hall.

“I think that your first couple of years sort of preps you for it. You see the other guys going through it, and you learn from them,” he said. “There is so much game preparation at that level that people don’t really understand it. We were working six days a week in the off-season. During the regular season, you’re working seven days a week.”

It didn’t take long for Thomson to rise to the top. He was the defensive captain as a senior, and he was the one responsible for calling out the checks and formations in a sophisticated defensive scheme. He didn’t match his interception total from his junior season, but he collected 79 tackles to help lead the team to a 7-4 record and another bowl appearance. Thomson graduated as the first Orangeman to compete in four consecutive bowl games.

“With all of our great teams at Syracuse, nobody had ever been to four bowls in consecutive years,” he said. “Back when they had Jim Brown, there weren’t all those smaller bowls. We were the first class to go four consecutive years. We went 3-0-1. We only had that one tie in my sophomore year. We capped it off by beating Arizona, 28-0, in the Aloha Bowl, and that was pretty special.”

With his dominance at Syracuse, it was no surprise that Thomson was recruited to many of the top senior bowl games. He played in the Japan Bowl and was crowned as the Defensive MVP in the East-West Shrine Game. Brett Favre was the offensive MVP.

“It was fun. Every four players shared a rental car for the week, and I shared my car with Brett Favre, Browning Nagle—a guy that played for the Jets—and John Flannery who played in the NFL for a long time,” he said. “It was great. I got to hang out with those guys all week.”

His performance earned him a tryout with the New England Patriots, but he was cut as a free agent at the start of the season. Rather than give up on the sport, Thomson turned to coaching. He led the University of New Haven football team to a pair of undefeated seasons before taking the helm at Bristol Central where he helped develop Tim Washington into a record setting rusher.

Thomson coached Mike Drury during his high school tenure, and that was one reason why Drury recruited his former coach to the sidelines last year when he took over the Blue Knight football program. Now Thomson has come full circle.

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