EMORY, Va. – For many Southwest Virginia residents, the Thanksgiving Day routine once featured a hometown hero.
From 1993 to 2004, Richlands High School graduate Mike Compton started at guard in the National Football League with the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars.
One of the highlights of Compton’s eight-year run with the Lions was the nationally-televised game each Thanksgiving.
Emory & Henry senior middle linebacker Josh Compton followed the same holiday tradition as other Southwest Virginia residents, with one exception. Josh was actually in the stadium to watch his father, Mike, block for the likes of record-setting Lions running back Barry Sanders.
“I would fly up for the games with my mom,” Josh Compton said. “I remember attending Christmas Day games, the 2001 “Tuck Rule Game” between the Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, and the two Super Bowl games that my father won with the Patriots. For the Christmas game, I would always get to open a present before we left for the stadium.”
Before winning two Super Bowl rings, Mike Compton earned all-state honors at Richlands and All-American honors at West Virginia University.
“Dad’s resume speaks for itself,” Josh said. “I’ve been around the game since I was born and I’ve always tried to listen and learn.”
After taking a circuitous route during high school and college, Josh is now in the center of the action for the E&H Wasps. The 6-foot, 220-pound senior ranks third on the team with 49 tackles while adding 5.5 stops for loss.
“My father is 6-foot-7 and 300 pounds,” Josh said. “I’m not very big, not very fast and not very athletic, so I just try hard and do what I can do. It’s blue-collar, old-school football for me.”
E&H head coach Curt Newsome appreciates the analytical and aggressive style of Compton.
“Josh is so mature, he’s like another coach on the field,” Newsome said. “Josh studies the game, takes care of his body and plays with a passion. Basically, Josh does everything it takes to be a good player.”
From kindergarten through eighth grade, Josh attended school in Richlands. During the fall of his freshman year, he transferred to Patrick Henry High School when his father was named as the head coach of the PH football team.
Compton played three seasons for the Rebels before his father landed a job with the new football program at Bluefield College. Josh transferred back to Richlands for his senior season.
Following high school, Josh attended Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands for a year. He then enrolled at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, West Virginia, when his father landed a job as the offensive line coach at the NCAA Division II school.
“I started all 10 games at tight end and H-back in my first year at Fairmont,” Compton said. “I wanted to move to the defensive side, and I was able to rotate in at inside linebacker in my second year. I was a better blocker and tackler than pass catcher.”
Compton said he originally never considered taking the NCAA Division III route at E&H despite playing just one mile from the campus at Patrick Henry.
“But eventually I told myself that if I ever decided to change schools that Emory was the place I was coming,” Compton said. “I transferred here last fall and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
After recording 17 tackles and two sacks in eight games last season, Compton has started every game this season at middle linebacker.
He figures to play another key role for the Wasps (3-4, 2-2) in Saturday’s ODAC game at Hampden-Sydney.
“I had a really bad first game this season at Ferrum where I missed a lot of tackles and I kind of put that loss on my shoulders,” Compton said.
Compton credits first-year E&H linebacker coach Stephon Robertson, a two-time winner of the Colonial Athletic Association defensive player of the year at James Madison University, for his progress.
“Coach Robertson was an amazing player and he’s an amazing coach,” Compton said. “He puts in the right positions to make plays.”
According to junior linebacker Zack Manley, the Wasps count on Compton to direct the defense.
“Josh has a very high football IQ and is a great leader,” Manley said. “Josh just flies around and makes plays. I love being on the field with him.”
Following his winding adventure back to Southwest Virginia, Compton said he has found a home in Emory.
“This is my last year of football,” he said. “I’ve only got three games left so I’ve really tried to work on my game. I just try to be in the right spot at the right time.”
Following graduation from E&H, Compton hopes to follow in the large footsteps of his father and enter the coaching profession.
“Growing up around football my whole life and being the son of a coach, I really feel like that I’ve learned the game well,” Compton said. “My dad has two Super Bowl rings, and I hope to get one myself some day as a coach.”