CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Virginia coaches say it has been "better late than never" with fifth-year graduate transfer defensive lineman Dylan Thompson.
Thompson made his first college start last Saturday at Georgia Tech, finishing the game with a career-best six tackles. He's listed as the team's second-team nose tackle behind true freshman Jordan Redmond heading into Friday's regular season finale at Virginia Tech.
"I'm so glad that he's here," UVA head coach Bronco Mendenhall said Monday. "Without his ability and his work ethic and his transition, would've been very hard to function last week. Not only did he play, he played really well. Practice I think led a strong defensive performance. In terms of his grades and production, he was one ever our best front seven players."
That's the sort of performance many fans were hoping for when Thompson announced plans to transfer to UVA from Ohio State -- where he only appeared in two games in four injury-plagued seasons. He was expected to add depth to a defensive line depleted by injuries and departures entering the year. But Thompson didn't arrive at UVA until the week leading up to the Cavaliers' opener against Richmond, missing the team's entire training camp in the process.
But according to Mendenhall, Thompson struggled to get up to speed in practice. Thompson first dressed for the Louisville game, and made his UVA debut a week later at NC State. He didn't play again until the North Carolina game a month later. Thompson's No. 68 jersey still doesn't have his last name on the back -- a sign that he still hasn't "earned" an official number in the eyes of the coaching staff.
Thompson was again pressed into action when sophomore Mandy Alonso was lost for the season in the loss to Pitt. He made three tackles in that game, giving Thompson nine tackles in five games this season.
Following the Georgia Tech loss, Thompson said he was just happy to contribute to the Cavaliers any way he could.
"It doesn't matter to me if it's in the weight room, if it's on the field. I want to help anybody I can," he said. "That's why I when I get out of here I want to be a college strength coach, I want to help athletes do this. I have no problem sharing the spotlight. I have no problem being under the spotlight. If our team is doing good, that's all that matters to me."
Thompson was a four-star recruit coming out of a Chicago-area high school in 2014. He was on a national championship team as a true freshman at Ohio State that fall. Now he's part of a seven-win UVA team that will play in a second straight bowl game, after trying to stop the program's 14-game losing streak against Virginia Tech on Friday.
"I'm just proud of the way that he's developed through the season, and he didn't give up on himself. And he just continued to grind even though, I mean, he had to go through the process," said UVA co-defensive coordinator Kelly Poppinga. "And unfortunately for him, it was kind of sped up. Wish we would have had that guy for four years, because I think he could have been really, really good in our scheme. And I mean, shoot, we've got two more games. I think the sky's the limit for him."