By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – Over the last three decades West Branch has gained a reputation for running the football under head coach Butch Pedersen.
That doesn’t mean that Pedersen doesn’t know what he’s looking for in a wide receiver.
Senior Ben Thompson checks every box that the long-time coach wants in a pass catcher.
“He’s got good speed, he’s got great jumping ability and he’s got deceiving speed, if you play him tight he can burn you,” Pedersen said of Thompson. “He’s also a good blocker. He blocks well, he gets after you and he stays on his blocks.”
There is one thing Thompson doesn’t have that sometimes comes with standout receivers – the ego.
“He’s very unselfish and I think that’s the real key to him,” Pedersen said. “He doesn’t really care about stats.”
He may not be concerned with his individual stats but with every game that goes it gets more and more difficult to ignore the numbers Thompson is putting up.
Thompson has a team-high 29 receptions and leads West Branch with 490 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
His 29 receptions rank third in Class 1A while his 490 receiving yards are fourth best in 1A.
The nine touchdowns for Thompson in six games are tied for the 1A lead and equal the most in a single season in program history.
Most importantly to Thompson his strong start has helped 1A eighth-ranked West Branch to a 6-0 start.
“I’m just focusing on winning really,” Thompson said. “I’m focused on the next play and trying to do what I can do to help us win.”
Thompson got his feet wet last season catching 16 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
He spent the offseason working on adding weight to his 6-foot-1 frame.
Big and stronger as a senior, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Thompson has established himself as one of the top pass catchers in 1A.
“I always thought that he could be a good player but he had to get bigger he had to not be afraid of contact and he overcame all of that,” Pedersen said. “He’s bigger and stronger and he’s not afraid of any contact now.”
Thompson has become a favorite target of West Branch junior quarterback Beau Cornwell and teams with fellow senior Jacob Graves to give the Bears a dangerous receiving duo.
Graves is off to his own strong start with 28 receptions for 425 yards and two scores.
“If teams decide to cover up (Graves) then I’ll be more open and Beau will put it in the right spot,” Thompson said. “If teams try to cover up me Graves can make a ton of plays. We have a lot of guys that can make plays.”
Thompson and Graves have both made West Branch pass catching history this season.
Graves set a school record for receiving yards in a game with 168 yards on five receptions in a wild 45-41 win over Bellevue.
A week later Thompson broke the record with a nine-catch, 176-yard, two-touchdown performance last week in a 24-23 win over Durant.
“I told him he could have it back the next week if he wanted it,” Thompson said. “We’ve gone back and forth but he can have it back if he wants it.”
Thompson, who had four catches for 96 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Jesup, has a touchdown reception in every game but one this season and his next touchdown will give him the single season school record.
“It’s pretty crazy because there have been a ton of great athletes that have come through West Branch,” Thompson said. “To be up in some of those records is an honor really.”