The text came early Sunday morning, before Chiefs running back Darwin Thompson had woken up in his downtown Kansas City hotel room.
Sad news, it began.
Thompson, a 22-year-old rookie, fell asleep late Saturday expecting the biggest workload of his NFL career — starter Damien Williams would be sitting out with an injury. Earlier that day, Thompson had taken a brief moment to consider how far he’d come in a year. In two years. In six.
Thompson never started a high school football game while at Jenks (Okla.) At times, he butted heads with head coach Allan Trimble. He often complained Trimble was too hard on him.
Years later, it would finally sink in.
“At that time, I didn’t really understand what was going on,” Thompson said. “Now, looking back on it, he was teaching me how to be great.”
The appreciation came after Thompson graduated Jenks. But it was there as he read the news in that text message Sunday.
Trimble died Sunday morning, three years after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). He led Jenks to 13 state championships and a record of 252-43 before the disease forced him to retire after the 2017 season, according to News on 6 in Tulsa.
“He taught me how to win,” Thompson said. “That’s really where my foundation started — how to win, how to grind, how to work hard. Ultimately, it helped build to where I am today.”
Which is here: Standing in front of his locker at Arrowhead Stadium, a swarm of reporters and TV cameras huddled around him.
Eight hours after rolling out of bed to news his high school coach had died, Thompson reached the most significant moment of his football career. He plowed into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown in the Chiefs’ 40-9 win against the visiting Oakland Raiders.
In a clock-killing drive late in the fourth quarter, Thompson fought through a tackle and used the aid of offensive lineman Andrew Wylie to maneuver four yards into the end zone.
“The first of many,” Thompson said. “I knew I had to seal the deal and close the game. Just close it up.”
Thompson entered the day with five career rushing attempts in the NFL. He had 11 Sunday and turned them into 44 yards, more than triple any other Chiefs running back. He carried the ball 10 times on the final drive alone and just might have played his way into a bigger role.
“Man, I was tired as hell, but I was like, ‘I gotta get in the end zone now. I gotta close it up right now,’” Thompson said.
The Chiefs’ offensive linemen flocked toward him as he scored. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes carried him off the field until Thompson begged him to set him down.
Thompson became so distracted by the moment that he didn’t bother to keep the football. Fullback Anthony Sherman later picked it up off the end zone grass.
“I think he was so excited he completely forgot to even grab it,” Sherman said. “So I picked it up and threw it to the sideline to make sure he’d have it for the rest of his life.”
Thompson ended the day as he started it — scrolling through text messages on his phone. There were dozens waiting on him, these of much happier news than the one that started his morning.
He thought of his coach as he stood in front of his locker, he said. Thought of how Trimble might have reacted if he’d seen the game. Or even if he’d been there.
“He’d slap me on the back,” Thompson said. “And give me a hug.”