"I'm not asking for a full scholarship, just to be put on the meal plan so I can eat like a ball player should. I don't have any money left so some days I don't get to eat at all, not even on days when we have games. This not eating has gotten me down. It's not fair and the coaches know it's not fair." -- Howard University tailback Ivan Thompson.
Two weeks ago, when injuries sidelined Howard University's starting tailback, Greg Banes, second-stringer Ivan Thompson stepped in and ran for 118 yards and one touchdown against Florida A&M.
Thomspon was so impressive that Bison Coach Floyd Keith made him a starter last week. Thompson responded with a 70-yard day, helping in the Bison defeat Delaware State, 49-7.
But Thompson is angry. He's angry because, he says, he is hungry.
He feels that a runner for a football team with major aspirations should not have to carry the ball on an empty stomach. He said he hasn't eaten anything other than junk food in more than two days.
Thompson, originally from Cleveland, left home two years ago to attend Treasure Valley Junior College in Ontario, Ore. He played there one season as a denfensive back, then came to Howard last fall on the suggestion of his cousin Ralph Grimes, a Bison offensive guard. He did not have a scholarship.
Thompson walked into Keith's office one day last summer and pronounced he would make the team as a walk-on. Thompson told The Washington Post early yesterday morning that Keith promised him access to the scholarship players' meal plan if he made the team.
"But when I made the team," said the 6-foot, 185-pound junior, "Coach Keith said there was nothing he could do for me. I've tried to get in touch with the athletic director (Leo Miles) but he's never been in his office.
"I told him when he came to me in the spring that I had awarded my limit in scholarships and I couldn't offer him anything for this season," Keith said last night. "You cannot separate meal money from a scholarship package. It's one and the same. You give somebody one penny toward anything and it's illegal. it's a situation where I would love to help him. But I can't. It's just hard for Ivan to understand that."
Miles said Howard has 30 available scholarships for first-year players and 75 total. "I believe we are at the limit for the number of scholarships we can offer," he said. "We never promised him anything. We don't do business by word of mouth. Everything here is written. A walk-on must perform well and sustain until the next season when he then can be offered a scholarship. You just don't know enough about a walk-on in spring practice to offer him a scholarship," continued Miles, who added that all players, including walk-ons, receive meals while on the road for away games.
Thompson not only made the team, but was switched from defensive back to No.2 tailback -- the second most important position in Keith's run-oriented, veer attack -- when questions of eligibility temporarily held Banes out of practice.
"I came to Keith and told him I wanted to play tailback because I was just as good as anybody he had out there," said Thompson. And the last two weeks he has moved up to the No. 8 spot among all rushers in the Mid-eastern Athletic Conference. He has 229 yards, Banes 300.
Keith said just two days ago, "Now you see why I didn't hit the panic button when Banes got injured. I consider Ivan Thompson a starter. He's done a good job for us. Now with a healthy Banes and Thompson in the tailback spot, they can both be fresh, and using two tailbacks gives our offense better expression."
But it's almost impossible for Thompson to be fresh, he says, when he has not had a decent meal in two or three days.
"Sometimes I go whole days without eating anything decent," Thompson said. "I don't have any money because I had to pay my tuition with all the money I saved from my summer job working with a moving company in Southeast. Some nights, some of the girls in my classes might cook me something, but other than that, I'm surviving.
"I didn't even have the pregame meal before Homecoming last Saturday and that really hurt me," Thompson continued in his raspy, bitter voice. "My performance could be better, but I don't have that much strength late in the games. I haven't lost that much weight (about five pounds) but it's just not fair.
"I've proven that I can play ball. I don't know if the coaches just don't want to admit that to themselves or not. I'm producing. I need a scholarship because I'm broke. My folks (in Cleveland) can't help out because they're in a financial bind and I don't want to think about quitting to get a job because I love to play football.
"This is nothing personal against Coach Keith, but I'm the only player on the first two units that doesn't have a meal ticket. He said he could sympathize but I think he could do something if he really wanted to. I just hope something happens soon because I don't know what to do."
To make matters worse, physicians told Thompson late Wednesday night that he has tendinitis in his right knee. "The doc told me to take it easy for a week so I may have to sit out the Virginia State game (Saturday afternoon in Petersburg). But I'll be all right after that."
Right now, running through a defensive lineman seems easy to Thompson, who hasn't had any money for a month and says he will have to take out a second loan from the government to pay his tuition.
"I'm just surviving right now," he said.
Last spring, several Howard football players complained to The Washington Post of alleged abuses by members of the football coaching staff. Howard administrative officials formed an investigative committee but to date no action has been taken.