NEPD Staff Writer: Oliver Thomas
Kenbrell Thompkins’ journey to the NFL has been a long an arduous one. It’s been a journey filled trouble and disappointment. But for the undrafted wide receiver, it’s also been a journey filled with redemption.
And despite the long odds he’s faced, the 24-year-old now finds himself in a window of opportunity that once appeared to be closed.
He finds himself in training camp with the New England Patriots.
Foxborough, Mass., is stark in contrast with where he began. Raised in a single-parent home in the Miami, Fla., neighborhood of Liberty City, Thompkins’ mother worked two jobs to support her six children. Her son spent much of his time alone, venturing out to explore nearby streets ravaged with violence as a result.
It caught up to him.
According to Joshua A. Miller of The News Record, Thompkins was associated with the wrong crowd by the time he was in middle school. He was stealing, he was getting in fights, and he was using and dealing drugs.
That culmination of factors snowballed. And before Thompkins turned 19 years old, he had been expelled from high school three times and arrested seven times. The final of which was a 28-day jail sentence for possession of cocaine with intent to sell.
There wouldn’t be an eighth arrest.
Instead, Thompkins rededicated himself to the game of football. Although due to his checkered past, colleges weren’t exactly jumping at the bit to recruit the Northwestern High School pass-catcher. He signed a letter of intent to play for Morgan State University, but he never arrived on campus.
Yet after seeing his younger brother, Kendal, garner a football scholarship from the University of Miami, Thompkins was driven to pursue the game. And he did so just about as far away from Florida as possible.
In the spring of 2008, Thompkins enrolled at Palomar Community College in San Marcos, Calif. Then that fall, the 6’0”, 195-pounder transferred to El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., where he got a shot to play football.
After a 2008 season which consisted of 42 receptions for 746 yards and five touchdowns, Thompkins broke out for 69 receptions, 1,020 yards and nine touchdowns for the Warriors in 2009. In turn, the junior college sophomore found himself with a chance to play Division I college football. He initially decided on the University of Tennessee. However, the departure of then-head coach Lane Kiffin forced him to rethink the decision. So he did, ultimately packing his bags and shipping north for the University of Cincinnati.
The red and black ended up being a perfect fit.
Thompkins collected 44 grabs for 536 yards and two scores in 2011. As a senior in 2012, he netted 34 catches, 541 yards and two TDs. There was a slight statistical regression, yet by the end of his time with the Bearcats, Thompkins was both an NFL draft prospect and a college graduate.
Catching passes from the likes of Zach Collaros, Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux, there was some streakiness in the Cincinnati passing attack. Nevertheless, Thompkins found continuity in his route-running and ability after the catch. A very fluid player who’s polished his craft, the little nuances in Thompkins’ game have made a big difference.
NFL teams still needed more convincing, though.
With steady, not spectacular production and just two years of Big East football under his belt, Thompkins was not among the 254 players — and the 28 wideouts — who heard their name called between April 25 and 27.
He heard his name called after the draft by New England, and struck a three-year deal with just $5,000 in guaranteed money, cites Spotrac.com.
Through rookie minicamp, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp, the rookie signing has been well worth the minimal investment. The undrafted longshot sporting a No. 85 practice jersey saw first-team reps due to positional attrition, even drawing praise in the process.
If Thompkins continues to shine when the pads come on during training camp and the preseason, then he may not end up such a longshot after all.
He may just end up a Patriot. A well-traveled, gifted, weathered and motivated, Patriot.
It’s hard not to root for that outcome.
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