When describing the word “hope,” you’ll likely come up with a definition that goes something like, “the feeling what is wanted can be had or having optimism events will turn out for the best.”
For many of us in dynasty leagues, we throw the word hope around all the time. We hope our team fares well. We hope our squad is injury-free this season. We hope we can finally win that elusive championship. In our work lives, we may hope for a promotion or even hope things go well when we have a big presentation or a project being evaluated. If you have children, you simply hope for the best.
For Kenbrell Thompkins, the word hope takes on a completely different meaning.
If you’ve been a follower of DLF, you’ve undoubtedly seen his name before. After all, he’s been mentioned in the DLF Forum for weeks now, been a topic of discussion on the DLF Dynasty Podcast and has been pegged as our New England Summer Sleeper for some time. For many players who begin to emerge in the Summer, their story really starts there. For Thompkins, that’s hardly the case. For this 25-year old rookie, there was once a time he only had the hope to merely survive. Thompkins has sadly taken a long and arduous path to find himself in the camp of the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent wide receiver.
He grew up in Liberty City, which is a suburb of Miami well known for gang activity. As a youth, he found himself alone much of the time and accidentally shot himself as he was playing with a gun at the age of seven. He reportedly sold drugs by the time he was in middle school. Yes, middle school.
Believe it or not, things actually got worse before they got better.
In High School, he was expelled three times, including once after an arrest for armed robbery. He was also arrested for cocaine possession with the intent to sell. All in all, he was arrested a total of seven or eight times (depending on which sources you read) while he was a teenager. Even with immense talent, there was no way any major University was going to take a chance on him. In the end, Thompkins had a choice to make – change his ways, his friends and his path or deal with the extreme consequences of his future actions.
He’s seemingly made the right choice.
Due to his numerous run-ins with the law, Thompkins lost out on any major college scholarships. He signed a letter of intent with Morgan State University, but never ended up playing there. After taking a year off from football, Thompkins went to Palomar CC before transferring to El Camino Community College in California. He played at El Camino and set the school’s most important receiving records.
After leaving school for the University of Tennessee on a scholarship from Lane Kiffin, Thompkins was thrown a curveball when Kiffin bolted for USC. Thompkins left Tennessee and tried to get in to Oklahoma. After he was denied by the Sooners due to their policy on criminal records, he eventually caught on at Cincinnati, due in no small part to the help of his well-known cousin (Antonio Brown of the Steelers), who was a friend of Head Coach Butch Jones. In his two years at Cincinnati, he put up modest numbers, including 78 catches for 1,077 yards and four touchdowns. He went undrafted, but eventually signed a free agent deal as New England was convinced to at least kick his tires.
With that checkered past, it’s easy to simply dismiss Thompkins as a sad tale of society taking another victim. However, each day seems to bring us a report of an amazing catch, a stretch of time with the first unit or even days where he’s being called the best player on the field for the Patriots. Aqib Talib hasn’t stopped talking about him and Thompkins has been praised by just about everyone for his precise route running, separation skills and overall athletic ability. ESPN’s Mike Reiss was recently quoted as saying, “Thompkins is the under-the-radar Patriots offensive player who has arguably built more momentum than any other.” It’s also been said Thompkins’ emergence was one reason why Donald Jones was let go so quickly.
In other words, it’s time to notice.
With the Patriots, Thompkins has a great chance to make the roster or even become a productive piece of the offense. They say success comes when talent and opportunity cross and that’s exactly what’s occurring. With the failures of Aaron Hernandez, the loss of free agent Wes Welker and the release of Brandon Lloyd, the Patriots all of a sudden have one of the weakest receiving corps in the league.
Thompkins finds himself in a battle with fellow rookies Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson. All have had strong camps thus far (we’ll have more on Boyce later on this week) and they’re all battling for snaps. However, Thompkins may have caught a bit of a break since he was able to put in valuable time during mini-camp while the other two receivers were nursing injuries. While their special teams ability could come into play, it’s likely they all won’t make the team as each player has strengths and weaknesses. The preseason will surely go a long way in determining just how bright their collective futures may be. Just remember, Thompkins has been an underdog his whole life, so don’t bet against him too quickly,
You may look at the situation and think the Patriots could just rid themselves of a character risk. After all, Hernandez took some luster from “The Patriot Way” recently. However, that may actually work in Thompkins’ favor. If a young man can see a teammate seemingly throw his life away in an instant, it could resonate even more and help him continue in his maturation process. In short, that’s about the best reality check a locker room can endure.
Let’s be realistic.
Much of the news coming out right now is media speculation, coach speak and hyperbole. Thompkins has as much of a chance to be the next waiver wire gem as he does getting cut in a month’s time. There’s no telling what his future really is at the moment. He could flame out and never make his mark or become the story of the preseason.
In the end, we play this game for a variety of reasons. We want to beat our league mates, we want to prove we’re the best at something, we love the game of football. Whatever the reason is, we all get attached to players and the stories they carry with them. To me, I get no greater satisfaction than unearthing a gem, learning more about them and rooting for them to be successful. Sure, they let you down sometimes and it doesn’t always turn out for the best. With a young man like Thompkins who is seemingly doing everything he can to emerge from a troubled past and show us we can never underestimate the human spirit, we should all have something a little different.
We should all have hope.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK