TAMPA — It would be easy for nearly anyone to get lost in a deep, talented USF recruiting class ranked as having the nation's No. 2 group of defensive ends.
There are other pass-rushers with higher ratings, such as junior college standout Jason Pierre-Paul, a five-star recruit according to Scout.com. There are more familiar names in local stars such as Armwood's Ryne Giddins and Boca Ciega's Julius Forte.
But there might not be a better story than Lake Mary's Demi Thompson.
Demi, you see, is short for Oluwademilola, which in his parents' native Nigerian language means "the Lord has crowned me with wealth." Thompson was born in England, where his father, Joseph, was a professional soccer player, and his family moved to the United States when he was 9 months old.
Joseph is now the senior pastor at the Church at the Well, a nondenominational church he describes as "just a Bible-believing church that loves people." Demi has picked up many things from his father, especially a love of sports.
"He's very passionate, very driven, and he's helped me learn to be committed in whatever I do," said Demi, who turned 18 on Thursday. "As a pastor, he deals with a lot of people, so he's given me a lot of wisdom to help me in different situations."
Demi's first love was soccer, and he can remember being tall enough as a child that other parents wanted his birth certificate checked. Sure enough, he soon outgrew the sport — he recalls taking an eighth-grade weight-room class when he was in fifth grade — and now stands 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds. Though he has shined at defensive end, he could end up playing tackle at USF.
"He's a very gifted athlete, but he's a great person, a natural leader and an inspiration in the locker room," said Scott Perry, his coach at Lake Mary the past two seasons.
Thompson didn't play football his freshman year after his family moved from Colorado, and he played as a sophomore at Mount Dora High, which went winless that season. After transferring to Lake Mary, he excelled despite being limited by injuries in his two seasons. He played much of last season with a broken pinkie, which required three surgeries and should be fully healed by this fall. Playing one-handed, he still finished with 14 tackles for loss, including six sacks.
Joseph Thompson didn't embrace American football initially, ignoring the sport his first few years in the United States. He worked with the Notre Dame women's soccer team the year it won a national championship, but he didn't attend a football game — he'll have a chance when USF plays there in 2011. He has since developed a keen interest in football, one that has only grown with his son's success.
"I think I could have played it professionally," said Joseph, himself 6-1 and 250 pounds. "I'm very aggressive, and I really enjoy the game."
He, too, sees a little soccer in his son's play, with unusually quick feet for a player his size — "it has helped his agility, no doubt," he said.
While his father loves to write — he blogs daily on his church's Web site, occasionally about his son's play — Thompson's favorite subject is math, and he said he would like to go into theater as an actor. Both are excited to know his college games will be less than a two-hour drive from home.
"The good thing about USF is that it's close to home, but not too close," the younger Thompson said. "Anytime I want to go home, it's right there."