There's something about a big stage and the glare of the spotlight that gets Skylar Thompson's competitive juices flowing.
It has been that way for as long as he can remember. And if you throw in a few naysayers who question his ability to rise to the occasion, so much the better.
"I've always been a very competitive person," Thompson said Tuesday, just three days after leading Kansas State to an upset victory over a top-five Oklahoma team for the second straight year. "When I'm being doubted or people are questioning me or not believing in me, that's when I'm at my best.
"That was kind of the situation this past weekend, and it's just an opportunity to go prove myself and to prove myself to myself and my family and the people in my circle that I know believe in me. That's who I do it for."
What Thompson did was lead the Wildcats back from a 21-point second-half deficit to a 38-35 road victory against the No. 3-ranked Sooners. K-State was a 28-point underdog going into the game two weeks after losing its season opener at home to Arkansas State.
Thompson, who had four rushing touchdowns when K-State stunned No. 5 OU, 48-41, last year, was even better this time around. He completed 18 of 25 passes for a career-best 334 yards and a touchdown, plus ran for three second-half scores.
It was his third career victory against a top-10 team, starting with an upset of No. 10 Oklahoma State his redshirt freshman season in 2017.
Thompson's success is no accident, said Chris Klieman, who designated Thompson as his starting quarterback almost immediately after accepting the K-State head coaching position in December 2018.
"For starters, he's got a great competitive spirit," Klieman said. "He competes his tail off (and) hates to lose.
"He studies the game and wants to continue to push himself — wants to learn more (and) doesn't think he has it figured out. He knows that he can improve."
Thompson knew at an early age that he lived for big moment, citing a fourth-grade championship basketball game as his first memory of gravitating toward center stage.
"I had a game-winning or game-tying shot to go into overtime and played a really good game," he recalled. "I always knew I was a competitive kid. I used to cry when my sister beat me in checkers when I was three years old.
"I remember that basketball game. I love big games and opportunities to prove myself."
But seeking the spotlight and navigating through the big games, especially one as tight as Oklahoma on Saturday, are two different things. That's where Thompson excels, according to senior safety Jahron McPherson, who saw it firsthand growing up in the Kansas City metro area.
"He's always composed," said McPherson, who went to Basehor High School on the Kansas side while Thompson played at Fort Osage in Independence, Missouri. "We grew up together and I've watched in big games from when we were 7 years old all the way until now.
"That man is always composed, and as a quarterback, when you're composed, everyone else is going to be composed. So that great leadership by him is just outstanding."
Or, as linebacker Elijah Sullivan succinctly put it, "He's a gamer."
Klieman has seen it as well in just a little over one season at K-State.
"He’s a guy that plays really well when he’s confident and when we get him some early throws that have success, and then he kind of feeds off that," Klieman said of Thompson, who continues to climb the K-State career chart in numerous offensive categories. "He sees the field much better now than when we first got here, but that’s a credit to him.
"He’s really spent the time with coach (Collin) Klein and coach Mess (offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham), learning our system and getting more comfortable and confident with changing a play, changing a protection, finding those matchups like we talked about before.
"I’m excited for him."
For his career, Thompson ranks third in school history with 29 starts and is in line to pass leaders Ell Roberson (32) and Josh Freeman (31). He ranks fifth in quarterback rushing yards (1,062) and rushing touchdowns (22), plus seventh in career passing yards (4,988) and passing touchdowns (29).
With 12 more yards through the air, he will join Roberson as the only K-State quarterbacks with 5,000-plus passing yards and 1,000-plus rushing.
"If he’s a healthy player, which he is right now, I think he can do some really special things," Klieman said of Thompson, who suffered a minor injury against Arkansas State that essentially took him out of the quarterback run game. "We have to continue to keep him protected (and) try to keep him away from some of those hits, but I’m excited about what he’s done and what he’s going to continue to do this season."
The Oklahoma game was just the latest example.
"I love big games, I live the spotlight and I love having that pressure and no one giving us a chance to win," Thompson said. "That was my message to the football team before the game this weekend.
"I’m speaking for a hundred other guys who feel the same way. That’s why we came to K-State. That’s why you want to be a K-State Wildcat to have opportunities to be the underdog and to win games like that."