Deonte Thompson has no problem taking advantage when an opportunity presents itself. Just ask one of his former coaches.
During his senior year at Glades Central High, Thompson earned a spot on a local newspaper’s all-area team. Problem was, he couldn’t find a ride to the photo shoot.
Roosevelt Blackmon, then a Glades Central assistant, wanted to take him but was tied up in a meeting at school. So, he flipped Thompson his car keys.
Problem solved. Thompson got to the shoot on time and returned the coach’s 1993 Acura Legend without a scratch. Good thing, given one minor detail Blackmon soon learned.
“A couple days later I’m like, ‘Man, I let you hold (borrow) my car and you didn’t have no license,’ ” Blackmon exclaimed, mimicking his high-pitched reaction. “I kid him about that.”
Entering his second year with the Baltimore Ravens, Thompson is in the driver’s seat of his NFL career. The 24-year-old wide receiver, who went undrafted in 2012 out of Florida, has coaches and teammates excited about his potential.
Thompson, who won a 2006 state championship at Glades Central, a 2008 BCS title at UF and a Super Bowl crown as a Ravens rookie, will be counted on to help replace Pahokee’s Anquan Boldin, who in March was traded to San Francisco. He will fight for reps in a deep pool of unproven pass-catchers behind starters Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. One of the players who will compete with Thompson for playing time is Miami alum Tommy Streeter.
“With Anquan leaving, there’s a big opportunity to fill that void. I think I’m the guy that can help,” said Thompson, speaking Saturday at a football camp he and fellow Glades Central alum Travis Benjamin, a receiver with the Cleveland Browns, hosted in Belle Glade.
Thompson caught five passes for 51 yards in limited action as a rookie. Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell lauded his development after organized team activities in May. He also spoke highly of his speed. Thompson, a 6-foot, 200-pounder, ran the 40-yard dash between 4.23 and 4.33 seconds at his UF pro day workout in 2012.
Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam of Dwyer is familiar with those numbers.
“A lot of guys can’t run with him,” said Elam, who tried to do just that for two years at Florida practices. “There aren’t a lot of receivers his speed that have the strength he has. Going against him every day made me better.”
Thompson put up 1,446 yards and nine touchdowns on 101 catches at UF but was often criticized by fans for the plays he didn’t make. Ravens third-year defensive tackle Pernell McPhee, a Pahokee alum, says Thompson has put that behind him.
“He’s gonna prove himself this year,” McPhee said. He laughs when he’s asked what to expect of Thompson, whom he faced in several Muck Bowls in high school.
“To be Deonte Thompson,” McPhee said. “Outrun everybody, catch those deep balls over their heads and score a couple touchdowns for the Baltimore Ravens. This cat … I see it every day. He’s on a whole ’nother level.”
Thompson and Benjamin’s free camp Saturday attracted more than 200 kids ages 5-18 who competed in drills and 7-on-7 games.
Numerous NFL players showed up in support. There were ex-Gators like Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and his twin brother, Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey; several of Benjamin’s pals from UM, including Dolphins running back Lamar Miller, Steelers linebacker Sean Spence and Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey; and former Florida State running back Lonnie Pryor of the Jaguars, who attracted a busload of kids from his hometown of Okeechobee.
“All of us are friends,” Mike Pouncey said. “We all went to school in the state of Florida. Any time those guys call us to help out, any time we call them, we’re there.”
The day had a family feel and gave Thompson flashbacks to his own youth in Belle Glade.
“I was right here, man, running around like these kids,” Thompson said. “Now look at me. I come back and have my own camp.”
As he spoke, Blackmon stopped by in a cart. He was shuttling camp equipment around the field.
“You remember when you had your camp out here? You don’t remember me,” Thompson teased.
“Yeah I do,” Blackmon said. “You were the little fast guy who kept talking.”
Some things never change. Thompson is still quick, and, with good reason, still confident.
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