BYU football player transitions to life off the field

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This time last year, Brett Thompson was building a solid career on the BYU football team. He would be doing the same thing right now, except he can no longer play.

Brett Thompson carries the football in BYU's game agains Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo courtesy Brett Thompson)
Brett Thompson carries the football in BYU’s game agains Middle Tennessee State on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo courtesy Brett Thompson)

The senior suffered a career-ending eye injury last fall in a pre-game practice, so he has had to find life outside of football, a life Thompson seems to have settled into without too much trouble. He now directs his energy toward a different kind of game: designing mobile applications.

Thompson released his own mobile application, PrizePlay, last month, and he says it helps to fill the gap football left in his life.

The transition from collegiate athlete to student app designer wasn’t pain free or voluntary. Thompson said he was in a good place on the team, “playing, having fun and everything,” when he suffered the injury.

The team was having a run-through practice without pads or helmets before last fall’s matchup against Wisconsin. Thompson, a tight end, was running a route and curled back around to catch the ball, when he said he turned around and the ball came earlier than he expected.

The football hit Thompson directly in his left eye. The impact detached his retina, which caused Thompson to lose sight in that eye temporarily.

“At the time, I just thought, ‘It’s blurry. I can’t see. That’s typical of getting poked in the eye or hit in the eye.’ But as time went on, within 20 minutes, I wasn’t seeing out of that eye. It was black.”

Thompson said he talked to the trainers and went to see an ophthalmologist that day. Doctors then performed laser surgery to fix the problem, and Thompson waited a couple of months to heal — not enough time, he realizes now.

“I was so determined to get back out there and play that, in my follow-up appointments, I would say that it was fine, but I could tell that it was still healing. I could see, but there were still parts that were black. But I just basically told them (I was fine). So they ended up clearing me to play.”

Thompson played in BYU’s bowl game loss to Washington, and the eye became further injured.

“I played in that game, and every time I would get hit, the blackness would start to grow, so at the end of the game, I could tell that in my peripheral vision I couldn’t see very well. I could see straight fine, but my peripheral vision was lost.”

After utilizing the offseason to heal, he started to play again at spring practice. He said the team started to hit again, and his vision worsened with each impact. Eventually he returned to the doctor, who told him he had started playing again too early. His retina was re-tearing, his peripheral vision permanently affected, and if he continued to play he would risk losing his sight in that eye completely.

At that point, Thompson made the difficult decision to end his college football career, realizing he needed to redirect his attention.

“I just hung it up and have moved on, I guess, for the most part,” he said.

Thompson said this transition hit him much earlier than he had expected. He had planned on at least one more year before football was out of the picture and he had to direct his attention elsewhere. In high school he planned on a year of football, a mission and then three more years of football. Suddenly without a senior year of football, he found that life choices were immediately upon him.

“I feel like a lot of football players have a hard time adjusting to life after football because it’s a full-time job. It’s every day. We put in probably 40 hours a week on top of school, so it really just becomes a way of life; and then, once that’s taken away, then it’s like, ‘Well, ok. What’s my new life?’ So that was hard, that adjustment.

“And I’ve always heard football players say it’s hard to adjust to that. I thought, ‘Well, I don’t think football is everything, so I’ll probably have an idea.’ There was that time where it was super hard. I didn’t really know. (I thought), ‘I’m going to finish school, but then what?'”

Fortunately, Thompson said, he had a supportive family and coaching staff to help him with this huge change. He is especially grateful for the mentoring of Coach Bronco Mendenhall.

Brett Thompson and wife, Coriann. (Photo courtesy Brett Thompson)
Brett Thompson and wife, Coriann. (Photo courtesy Brett Thompson)

“Coach Mendenhall, a lot of times people see him just as a head coach of football players, but he’s a mentor. He has interviews with each of the players, and he really cares about you as an individual rather than just seeing you as somebody who he hopes does well so that the team can be better. He really cares about your family, how you’re doing spiritually, mentally, physically,” Thompson said.

He met with Mendenhall a few times, and he said Mendenhall advised him to focus on his family and to find another passion. Thompson has enjoyed having more time to spend with his wife and has found a new outlet for his time and energy in the development of mobile apps.

Thompson said he had the idea for an application during his sophomore year, and he decided he would try it out if he he ever had the time. PrizePlay is an application that allows users to enter tournaments, where they compete with other users and play games on their phones for free prizes. He hopes to make a career out of building mobile applications, but if that doesn’t work out, he is currently studying to work in hospital administration.

For now, though, he is loving his new project.

“It’s cool to see this new passion,” Thompson said. “I feel like I have the same exact mindset and passion for this mobile app compared to when I was playing football. It was good to have something to transition to.”

More than anything, he said, he wants people to know there is life after football.

“Not all football players stay in a slump,” he said. “Through football I was able to develop what it takes to be successful.”

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