The recruiting services were handing out stars Tuesday, three, four and for the very best: five.
They ranked the best players, from 1-300 in some cases. They stacked blue chips on top of blue chips as a way to measure who the best recruits were, and which teams got the most of them.
And at Countryside, Denzel Thompson was orally committing to Southeastern Louisiana.
He might have been happier picking and choosing among bigger colleges as the recruiting gurus debated his talents, but this felt pretty good.
“Once you get past all the swamps,” he said, “it’s just like home.”
Denzel Thompson didn’t do camps and combines, didn’t post amazing numbers in the shuttle or the standing broad jump or pass around amazing film.
He wasn’t a YouTube phenomenon.
Until this past season, he wasn’t even a starter.
He was nobody.
And the 6-foot-3, 180-pound cornerback earned his college scholarship the old-fashioned way:
On the field.
“He’s definitely a kid that benefited from his senior year,” said Countryside coach Jared Davis. “He probably fell victim to the early recruiting that goes on right now. There is so much emphasis put on the junior year, every college is trying to get ahead in the process.”
Thompson didn’t have a junior year, really. He was injured for the first half of the season, and when he returned he was unable to win a starting spot.
He saw action in the playoffs as the nickel back, and considering he was also injured his sophomore season, there wasn’t much to show the scouts.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Thompson hurt his back this spring. Missed it all, including a spring game with a dozen colleges in attendance.
“Everyone told me my junior year was the big one for recruiting, but there was nothing I could do about it,” Thompson said. “I was always thinking about college. I felt like I could play at the next level. It was aggravating. I knew, I just knew I could, but I had to show people that I could.”
By the summer he was healthy, and then in the fall, playing opposite highly touted cornerback recruit and North Carolina commitment Alex Dixon, Thompson came out of nowhere.
He made big plays in the season opener against Boca Ciega, and he never stopped.
He had three interceptions one game, and two in another, leading the whole county with nine picks by the end of the season.
“Everyone knew Alex’s name and I knew my senior year everyone would come out throwing at my side every single game,” Thompson said. “That was a good thing. I had one year to do this.”
He didn’t give up a touchdown pass to his side all season. He barely gave up any pass catches.
With plenty of eyes on the Cougars this season because of Dixon, Tyler Moore and Terry Johnson, to name a few, Thompson shined.
“He was a lockdown guy,” said Davis. “And playing alongside Alex definitely helped him a lot. He really benefited.”
Thompson realized his potential, but he never became a hot recruit. It was probably too late for that. But he picked up two offers, the other from Presbyterian.
A few other bigger schools expressed interest, but they wanted to wait and see who bailed on them first.
When he visited Southeastern Louisiana, he was surprised to find that every coach knew everything about him.
They told him they liked his potential.
Thompson has always been brimming with it, but never seemed to stay healthy enough to unlock it.
“There’s no question in my mind his best football is ahead of him,” Davis said. “He’s got intangibles you can’t coach. He showed some flashes this season, he’s a big, tall kid, he can run a little bit and his hands are huge. I think you’re going to see him develop into something.”
While the rest of the college football world is debating the very best football players and the best recruiting classes, Thompson is happy with his choice.
His name may not have stars or a stack of blue chips next to it, but that’s okay. Soon, however, it will be scribbled on a letter on intent.
“You know, I just took it play by play, I knew I had to have a big year,” he said. “At the end of the day, it came out pretty good.”