By Gabriel Stovall
GRIFFIN, Ga. — When Tru Thompson got his first offer from Florida State this past Friday after participating in a three-day camp in Tallahassee, he was speechless.
“I was shocked,” Thompson said. “I didn’t really say anything. I was just smiling.”
Fast forward several days, and Thompson had plenty to say after spending Monday morning running hills and shuttles on the Griffin High School practice fields in sweltering Georgia heat.
“Lots of work,” Thompson said, in between heavy breaths while drenched with sweat. “This is the most work I’ve ever done in my life.”
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive tackle just finished eighth grade at Luella Middle School and is naturally strong. Nic Clemons, his position coach at Griffin who’s also a former Georgia standout and NFL player, said that much was evident when he first saw Thompson in the weight room.
“He came in having never lifted weights before, so his very first bench press was 300 pounds, and his first squat was 515,” Clemons said. “When I first saw this kid, I looked and just said whoa. When I found out how old he was, I said I couldn’t wait to get to coach this young man on the field.”
Thompson is already learning the necessity of balancing out the barrage of people telling him how great he is and the reality of how much he needs to improve.
Case in point, the Griffin spring football game.
“When I was in at the spring game, I was just like, amazed because everything was so much faster than before,” Thompson said. They were coming through the hole, and I was like, ‘Yo, he came through that hole fast.’ I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even make the tackle. So, I know, like, the first game (of the season), I don’t think I’m going to do too well. But I know I’ll get better as I go along. It’s going to be a learning experience to get up to that speed.”
But it’s an experience Clemons believes his young tackle can handle. With a seven-year pro career that included stops with the Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons and Denver Broncos before retiring in 2010, Clemons knows top talent when he sees it. And Thompson — as green to this new level of football as he is — is, in Clemons’ opinion, a top talent.
“This kid is going to be unbelievable,” Clemons said. “You can already see it. And not just his ability, but he’s the kind of kid who just wants to get better. He does everything you tell him to do with no back talk, and he tries to do it with perfection. This kid is only 14 years old, but you can see that every day he’s trying to beat himself and get better.”
According to Tru’s father, Alton Thompson, Sr., it didn’t take long for the Florida State football coaching staff to see the rising freshman’s promise, either.
“When he first got to the camp, they separated the young guys from the upper classmen for one-on-one drills,” Alton Thompson said. “Tru just killed the guy he was going up against. Coach Odell Haggins was really high on him, but he had to ask me his age. He didn’t believe he was just 14 years old.”
From there, the elder Thompson said Haggins moved Tru on to compete against the upperclassmen. The production didn’t drop off. In fact, one video clip that has circulated around Twitter shows Tru more than holding his own with 6-foot-6 335-pound offensive tackle Navaughn Donaldson, a 3-star prospect from Miami Central (Fla.).
— Chris Nee (@CNee247) June 12, 2015
“He did a great job on him,” Alton Thompson said. “Coach Odell said he’d never seen anything like that, how a kid that age was able to banana around a guy that size and pop back up. It just freaked him out. Coach (Rick) Tricketts, the offensive line coach there, told Coach Haggins that if I were you I’d try to offer that kid now.”
The Thompsons are knowledgable about the Florida State program from a first hand perspective. They originate from Orlando, Fla., and moved to Georgia back in 2005. They’ve always been Florida State fans, and Alton Thompson said he loved the “family atmosphere” in Tallahassee.
Alton Thompson coached football for three seasons at Jonesboro High in Clayton County upon his Georgia arrival — his namesake son Alton played wide receiver for Luella High — but now he’s devoting his full attention to assisting his youngest son as he navigates his next four years at Griffin.
“He’s a pretty humble kid and a gifted student,” he said. “He stays on top of his school work. I don’t have to say anything. Even when he played rec ball, he was always looking at videos of guys like Julius Peppers just to learn how to get better.”
Tru said he also likes studying Ndamakong Suh, Gino Atkins and Gerald McCoy. He spends a ton of time pouring over their highlight videos and tries to mimic their best moves.
“That’s not coming from me,” Tru’s father said. “That’s coming from him. He’s just a focused kid. He got the offer and all, and he was excited because it was so unexpected, but he doesn’t even really want to talk about it because he just wants to concentrate on winning a state championship here.”
How’s this for focus: He created social media boundaries for himself, allowing his brother and father to man his Twitter accounts, only allowing himself certain levels of access.
“I don’t look at the retweets,” Tru Thompson said. “I only look at the DMs or when people are talking specifically to me for something.”
That’s because, even though he’s already building the profile of a big time high school recruiting prospect, he wants to do all he can to enjoy his youth.
“I don’t want that to get all blown up,” he said. “I still wanna be a kid, you know? I mean, I’m only 14 and because of football I don’t have a lot of friends. I keep my circle small so I don’t have a lot of distractions.”
But Tru’s got too much to work on to get too distracted anyway. His goals are too lofty for distractions.
“I’m really excited to get that Florida State offer, but I know it’s just the beginning, and I plan on getting a lot more,” he said. “So now I’m just learning from Coach Laws and Coach Nick (Clemons). I’m pushing myself. My brother always tells me to work hard and push myself. My dad tells me to push myself, even though I’m tight, my stomach’s hurting. They keep telling me to do it, and I’ll do it because I’m hoping to be great.”