It was Halloween night 2012.
Tanner and Tommy Thompson were in the thick of talking to schools, and it was time for a decision to be made about where they would be playing college soccer.
They were at their home in Loomis, California, and Tanner had come downstairs to talk with his dad, Gregg. This wasn’t about the trick-or-treating route for the night — they may have outgrown that — it was a serious conversation about where the boys would be playing.
“Tanner was the real thinker of the group and evaluated things and looked at several other options,” Gregg said in a phone interview. “Stanford was another option he considered heavily. His brother was there.”
Both Tanner and Tommy were getting interest from Stanford and IU. Would they stay in California or head to the Midwest?
Gregg and Tanner were talking about Indiana. Tanner told his dad, “Yeah, I think we’re going to go there,” when down the stairs came Tommy, clad in his Halloween costume and mask and ready for the night.
“Tommy, can you please take off your mask?” Gregg said. “We’re trying to figure out what you guys are doing for college.”
Tommy obliged and simply asked his brother what they were going to do. Would it be IU, where their dad was a national champion, or Stanford where their brother Tyler played?
“Tanner goes, ‘Okay, this is what I’m going to do,’” Gregg said. “And Tommy says, ‘Okay, I’m in. I’m going to Indiana too.’ So, that’s how it went down.”
IU had yet to win the national championship in 2012 when they made this decision, but that had to help aid their decision-making. They were going back to Bloomington, where their dad won IU’s first national championship in 1982 with then-coach Jerry Yeagley.
“Tanner thought about it step by step,” Gregg said. “I provided information to him. I may have been a little bit biased because of my background, but they came to that conclusion on their own.”
It was back home again to Indiana for the Thompson family.
When walking around IU’s campus, you may not necessarily notice the 5-foot-7, 150-pound Tanner Thompson.
He looks like any other student walking to and from class and trying to get through his school day.
On the soccer field, however, it’s a completely different story.
The senior midfielder was named the Top Drawer Soccer National Player of the Week in 2016 and a season ago was the Big Ten midfielder of the year and a third-team All-American.
Tanner comes from a family that has soccer embedded in its roots. His father, Gregg, was captain of IU’s first NCAA title team in 1982. He scored both goals in a 2-1 eight-overtime win against Duke in the National Championship.
His brother Tommy committed to IU with him and now plays for the San Jose Earthquakes, and his other brother, Tyler, played soccer at Stanford. For good measure, his cousin, Bobby De St. Aubin, also played for the Hoosiers and was part of the 2000 and 2001 College Cup teams.
“Tanner has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders this year and has come in the most ever prepared on and off the field,” IU Coach Todd Yeagley said. “It’s the best shape he’s been in. He’s really taking care of his body, and he’s fine-tuning. He knows how important this year is for him.”
Now in his fourth season in Bloomington, the senior has put his name in the national conversation for player of the year and will look to lead IU to its ninth national championship.
The awards are nice, but Tanner’s not worried about that, he said. What he puts his mind on is what goes on between the lines.
“It’s nice and it’s an honor, but I focus on what I can do between the touchlines,” Tanner said. “It’s a nice thing, but I don’t want to focus on it too much.”
During the first weekend of the 2016 season, when he earned the aforementioned player of the week honors, Tanner came up with the game-winning penalty kick with 30 seconds left against New Mexico and then came through with an assist and a game-winning goal to lead the Hoosiers to a 3-1 win against UC-Irvine.
It’s things like these that keep the Hoosiers at the top of the polls. For Tanner, getting off to a hot start helped the Hoosiers open the season with wins and gave him confidence, his coach said.
“Having a little success early does help, it gives him a little confidence,” Yeagley said. “I think Tanner showed what you want out of any senior leader. From the first whistle to the final in both games, I thought he impacted the game in a positive way.”
The early goals in the first weekend of the 2016 regular season didn’t faze Tanner or the other Hoosiers. Thus far this season, he has been the guy for the Hoosiers, junior defender Grant Lillard said.
When Lillard picked up a red card in the match against Stanford, IU had to come together as a team and grind out a result. They eventually did with a 0-0 draw, but the Hoosiers needed a leader, and Tanner was the guy they turned to.
Just five days later, the Hoosiers turned to Tanner again. With Lillard having to miss the game against No. 5 Maryland, Tanner was once again going to be the one that the team would turn to.
“He’s unbelievable for this team,” Lillard said. “He’s fit this year, he’s ready to go, he’s been doing a really good job for us and he’s going to continue doing that for us moving forward.”
In the match against Maryland, the Hoosiers did give up a late goal after leading for 80 minutes, but Tanner was the man pulling the strings in the midfield. It doesn’t always show up in the box score, but Tanner can have those games where he’s the main distributor or the guy who does it all for the Hoosiers.
This 2016 squad on a quest for nine is a group that is eager for success, and, as Tanner said, he has confidence in them.
“I’ve never been so confident in a group,” Tanner said. “Every time I step on the field, I expect to win, and we expect to win. It’s exciting. We’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”
With the commitment of Tanner and Tommy Thompson to IU, it was a homecoming of sorts for Gregg Thompson.
Gregg had been talking with his former coach Jerry Yeagley through the recruitment process of his sons and he had secretly hoped they ended up at Indiana. It was the relationship that sprouted from his time at IU that may have been instrumental in Tanner and Tommy committing.
Nowadays, the Yeagleys and Thompsons are very close, and both fathers have a relationship while their sons, coach Todd Yeagley and Tanner Thompson, have their own.
“We have a great relationship, Jerry and I,” Gregg said. “I think Todd and Tanner have an even closer relationship because Tanner has the ability to talk soccer much more than I ever did with Jerry. I think it’s one relationship between all of us that has always been very strong just because the nature of our upbringing and the times we had with championships or great runs.”
As for Tanner and Todd, the relationship is “tight” both on the field and off, according to the current All-American.
“We’re close, we discuss a lot of things on the field,” Tanner said. “Off the field, it’s like a family. IU soccer is like a family. We go over to his house for dinner, Easter, stuff like that. I’d say he’s very good about incorporating the guys and bringing them in, especially the guys from out of town.”
With Tanner being such an integral part of the program, the Thompsons enjoy being back in the program, and if it isn’t a second home of sorts, there are sentimental feelings coming back to where Gregg was once a captain.
Now when they go back to Bloomington to watch their son create his magic on the pitch, Gregg said he enjoys the compliments he hears in the crowd from total strangers about himself and his career and what is happening with Tanner.
“We go back there quite a bit, and to hear people’s conversations about me and my kids — these are all strangers in the crowd and I’m just listening,” Gregg said. “It’s interesting to me to hear these conversations randomly. You’re part of this family, and even though you live all the way out in California, there are still all this loyalty.”
This season will be the last for this generation of the Thompson family in the IU program and with that will come the end of quite a legacy. Tanner has the chance to match his father in the history books with a national championship, but that won’t be what defines his legacy at IU.
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.