Player Spotlight: DeAndre Thompkins
During a rainy September home game against Buffalo in 2015, a redshirt freshman by the name of DeAndre Thompkins experienced the first touch of his collegiate career. Securing the ball around the 18-yard line, Thompkins ran to his right, trying to find an opening, but quickly cut left towards a wide-open gap that the punt returner used to take the ball all the way to the Bulls’ 25-yard line.
Fast forward to 2016 against Pitt at Heinz Field. The Nittany Lions trailed the Panthers, 35-21, early in the fourth quarter. Hoping to close the gap, Trace McSorely threw deep towards the Panthers’ end zone as Thompkins looked up into the sky behind him, making a one-handed catch over his defender. As the story goes, the Nittany Lions would go on to lose the game, but this season’s Week 1 matchup against Akron at home found Thompkins making another big time play. In the first quarter on a punt return, Thompkins broke two tackles and exploded, taking the ball 61 yards to the house. The play would help lead Penn State to a 52-0 shutout victory against the Zips.
Thompkins’ punt return touchdown against Akron was the first time a player in Penn State uniform has done so since Derek Williams’ 2008 return against Wisconsin. A nine-year drought had finally ended from the redshirt junior out of Hubert, North Carolina, whose goal has been to return a punt for a touchdown since his freshman year at Penn State.
Sporting the number three, standing at 5-11 and weighing 187 lbs., Thompkins possesses a smaller frame in regards to sizing than most NCAA college football receivers. With Chris Godwin being a favorite target for the Nittany Lion’s pass game last season, and DeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson being major targets for this season, Thompkins has found a way to set himself apart by making waves on special teams.
Thompkins has returned seven punts for 158 yards and one touchdown so far this season, as well as achieving the longest return of his collegiate career so far. During his 2015 season, Thompkins returned 27 punts for 178 yards and zero touchdowns. Thompkins is only 20 yards shy of surpassing his personal best of yards gained on punt returns and is on track to shatter that record this season.
A four-star recruit from Swansboro High School, Thompkins excelled on the field not only as a key player the team looked to during big plays, but as an explosive athlete as well. Thompkins was a two-sport athlete in high school, playing football all four years and participating in track and field during his sophomore and junior year. Thompkins currently holds his high school’s track and field record in both the 200 and 400-meter dash. During his time on the football team, Thompkins played both the wide receiver and running back position and even saw time in the secondary. During his senior season at Swansboro, he recorded 28 receptions for 269 yards at the receiver position. As a junior, Thompkins proved just as explosive in the run game, rushing for 1,359 yards on 175 carries.
After receiving offers from schools such as Tennessee, Notre Dame and Clemson, which would have put the prospect in the same recruiting class as Deshaun Watson, the player from a community of around 15,000 committed to play in front of 107,000 fans for the Blue and White in April of 2013.
Heading into his senior season with a year left of eligibility, Thompkins is on track to be a pivotal part in James Franklin’s system as both a receiver and punt returner. During Penn State’s Media Day in August, receivers coach Josh Gattis praised Thompkins’ ability both as a player and an athlete, touching on the development he’s had over the years, the strength he brings to the Nittany Lions’ offense and his ability to play beyond the collegiate level. Following this season’s Akron game, Franklin praised Thompkins’ performance and shared the confidence he has in special teams’ ability to become a true threat this season.
With a knack for finding the gaps, natural athletic ability and a drive to be successful, Thompkins will continue to help lead the No. 5 Nittany Lions down the path of success all season long.
Ellie French is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com.
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism