FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Univ. of Ark.) – Nate Thompson was announced as the new Razorback assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Friday afternoon by head baseball coach Dave Van Horn. Thompson comes from Missouri State where he spent the last three seasons. Thompson is replacing Tony Vitello, who was named the head baseball coach at Tennessee earlier this month.
“Arkansas is a premier place,” Thompson said. “Coach (Dave) Van Horn is a legend and a proven winner everywhere he has gone. To get the opportunity to coach at a place like Arkansas, to recruit with the resources and have the fan support that is here is tremendous. Getting the chance to work with Dave Van Horn and the caliber of players they have, it’s a dream and the opportunity of a lifetime. I couldn’t be more excited and I am blessed beyond measure to be a Hog. I can’t wait to get started and working toward championships.”
Thompson recently helped the Bears reach the NCAA Super Regionals as part of a 43-20 season and a Missouri Valley Conference championship. The Bears’ offense hit .274 as a team and hit 80 home runs for the second-straight year. With Thompson on staff, Missouri State hit .270 or better in each of the last three seasons and averaged just under seven runs per game.
“I am very excited to add Nate Thompson to our coaching staff,” Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said. “He brings a lot of energy and experience in recruiting for this region, as well as Texas. Nate has done a tremendous job working with the offense at top-notch programs like Nebraska, Dallas Baptist, and Missouri State. I thought he would be a great fit for our program. I’ve been watching Nate for the last few years and he’s worked extremely hard to get where he is. I’m looking forward to him leading our recruiting efforts and working with our offense.”
Thompson was a key reason for the emergence of All-American third baseman Jake Burger, who recently was taken 11th overall in this week’s MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, and was the first player in Missouri State history to be selected in the first round. Burger led the Bears, offensively, last season, hitting .328 with 22 home runs, 65 RBIs, and a .648 slugging percentage. Burger was named a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award for the second-straight year. He ranked second among all active Division I hitters with 47 career home runs, while his 241 career hits is the 11th-best total in Missouri State history. Earlier this week, he was named a first team All-American for the third consecutive season, becoming only the second player in MSU history to earn that distinction.
Shortstop Jeremy Eierman, another pupil of Thompson, put together his own All-American season this year, being named a first team All-American by Perfect Game/Rawlings as a shortstop. He hit .313 with 23 home runs and a team-leading 68 RBIs. His home runs are good for fifth nationally and he and Burger form the nation’s top home run hitting duo with 45 combined round-trippers this spring.
During the 2015 season, Burger became just the third Bear rookie, along with Mark Bailey (1980) and Bob Blakley (1974), in the 52-year history of the program to be selected for an All-America team (other than an all-freshman squad).
In 2016, the Bears blossomed at the plate under the tutelage of Thompson with an MVC-best .299 team batting mark–their top single-season average since 2009. MSU led the Valley in nearly every major offensive statistical category, including slugging (.500), on-base percentage (.391), runs scored (440), RBIs (412), doubles (121), triples (26), home runs (80) and total bases (1027). The Bears’ 80 long balls ranked as the sixth-best total in club history, led by NCAA Division I home run leader Spencer Johnson (24), who earned All-America honors with Burger (21) after ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, respectively.
Three different position players signed professional contracts at the conclusion of Thompson’s first season with the Bears, including MVC Defensive Player of the Year Joey Hawkins and all-MVC performer Dylan Becker, who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as first-team all-conference pick Tate Matheny, who agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. Johnson joined the group last year, signing with the Houston Astros after being selected in the 16th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Additionally, Thompson’s first full year with MSU produced one of the top recruiting classes in program history. Anchored by a home-grown crop of standouts that included nine players rated among the top 31 high school recruits in the state of Missouri by either Perfect Game USA or Prep Baseball Report, the Bears’ 2015 recruiting class was ranked 35th in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Last year, Thompson was named the best recruiter in the Missouri Valley Conference by D1Baseball.com.
Thompson joined the Bears staff in July 2014 as MSU’s lead hitting instructor and recruiting coordinator. An assistant coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College for four years, Thompson filled the vacancy left by the retirement of Brent Thomas after 32 years of continuous service on the Bears’ staff. Thompson served as Hutchinson’s primary hitting coach from 2011 through the 2014 season, over which time he helped lead the Blue Dragons to a pair of KJCCC West regular-season titles and two of the top five win totals in program history. This past spring Hutchinson broke 17 team or individual school records during a 43-17 campaign that saw it rank among the NJCAA’s top 20 nationally in 14 offensive statistical categories. In 2014 alone, Thompson helped mentor outfielder Matt Jones, a 25th round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2014 MLB Draft, Jayhawk West Most Valuable Player Jake Schleppenbach and national pitcher of the year Kyle Simonds, who became the first player in Hutchinson history to earn first-team All-America recognition.
Over his four-year stint as an assistant coach in Hutchinson, Thompson helped steer a program that averaged 35 wins per season while posting a .613 winning percentage and producing 23 All-Jayhawk West Division selections, eight of which went on to earn NJCAA All-Region VI honors. In 2012, the Blue Dragons logged a 40-17 ledger, including a Jayhawk West Division crown with a 23-9 conference mark. Led by second-team All-American Tanner Lubach, seven Blue Dragons earned all-conference honors that season, with four players signing to continue their careers at the Division I level.
Thompson spent three seasons at Nebraska as the Cornhuskers’ volunteer assistant prior to his arrival in Hutchinson. In that capacity, he instructed the Husker outfielders and assisted with the infield group, playing key roles in the development of 2008 All-Big 12 performers and MLB draftees Jake Opitz (12th round, Cubs) and Mitch Abeita (19th round, Yankees), who helped Nebraska log an impressive 41-16-1 campaign and earn the right to host an NCAA Regional in Lincoln.
Following the completion of his own collegiate playing career at Dallas Baptist, Thompson began his coaching career as a student assistant with the Patriots. A two-year letterwinner in the DBU outfield, Thompson helped the Patriots claim the 2004 NCCAA national championship after turning in a standout two-year career at Garden City (Kan.) Community College. He was a key figure on the Busters’ 2003 Jayhawk West Division championship team, earning NJCCAA Distinguished Academic All-America honors.
During the 2006 season, Thompson aided a Dallas Baptist coaching staff that included current Patriots head coach Dan Heefner, working with the DBU outfielders while assisting with hitting instruction and the implementation of the club’s strength and conditioning program. The Patriots recorded a .329 team batting mark en route to a 33-23 season and saw a school-record seven players taken in the MLB Draft. From there, Thompson moved into a graduate assistant role at Fort Hays (Kan.) State, where he served as the Tigers’ primary hitting and outfield coach during the 2007 campaign. A pair of Tigers earned ABCA All-Central Region recognition under Thompson’s tutelage as Fort Hays State finished with a 33-20 overall record.
Additionally, Thompson gained experience during the summer of 2007 as an assistant coach with the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League, where he was nominated for the league’s assistant of the year honor. Thompson also served as director of Nebraska’s summer baseball camps from 2008-10, overseeing program development and personnel while assisting with the instruction and skill development phases of the camps.
A native of Goodland, Kan., Thompson graduated cum laude with his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Dallas Baptist in 2006 and earned a master’s degree in sports administration at Fort Hays State in 2008. He married the former Anna Schardt in 2009, and the couple has two daughters, Nevaeh and Natalie.
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