It was two years ago when Albany (Georgia) Westover High School head coach Octavia Jones realized he had something special in then-sophomore defensive tackle Trent Thompson.
Thompson enjoyed a breakout performance against Cairo, a team Jones described as “one of the tougher teams in our region.” According to MaxPreps, Thompson accounted for 10 tackles against the Syrupmakers, including four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
“They are a very successful program, and he kind of dominated that game,” Jones said. “They had a hard time blocking him. Their head coach, Tom Fallaw, we talked after the game and he had nothing but praise for the way Trent played.”
Fallaw recalled one play in particular that opened his eyes.
“I can remember, at the time, we had a kid named P.J. Davis who now plays linebacker at Georgia Tech,” Fallaw said. “He was one of our running backs. We ran a zone read outside, and Trent was playing nose and he chased him down from the backside. P.J. is not slow. He [Thompson] was about 280 then. You just knew he had the size and athletic ability to be a special player who could go to the next level.
As the year progressed, the praise kept coming from opposing coaches for the Patriots' young man-child. According to Jones, one coach who played both his club and Dooly County—home to then-5-star defensive tackle and current Auburn star Montravius Adams—told him that Thompson looked “a lot like Adams.”
“When we got to end of the season and we were doing our self-analysis, I looked back on how many plays he made, and it was unreal,” Jones said. “We didn’t realize at that time during the season, how important he was to us until we had a chance to look at it after the season.”
During his breakout sophomore campaign, Thompson recorded 65 tackles, five sacks and an interception. That was enough for in-state power and childhood favorite Georgia to extend him his first scholarship offer.
“I think I pretty much told every recruiter that came through here that year about him,” Fallaw said. “He’s a kid that who is big, athletic and uses his size well. He can move. He’s just one of those kids where after you look at him, it’s a no-brainer that he can play at the next level.”
The 6’4”, 292-pound Thompson—now rated as the nation’s top defensive tackle and the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports Composite Rankings—committed to Mark Richt’s Bulldogs over offers from powers such as Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and USC at a ceremony at his high school on Tuesday evening.
“He got pretty emotional toward the end when he spoke about how special the day was for him,” Jones said. “He’s just very excited right now.”
Jones credits his star pupil’s rise in recruiting circles to maturity and a strong work ethic. Specifically, prior to his junior season, Thompson worked on the finer details of becoming an elite interior defensive lineman—such as improving his technique and handling cut blocks.
With his college destination now known, Thompson enters his senior season ready to build on a monster junior year in which he logged 83 tackles—including an astounding 38 for loss—and 12 sacks, according to MaxPreps.
“I think everybody knows the caliber player he is, but I can’t stress enough of how good of a person he is off the field,” Jones said. “He’s genuinely one of those individuals that will make a program proud because he’s going to do things the right way.”
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.