ATHENS – Trent Thompson is shy. He doesn’t do many interviews. He may be Georgia’s best defensive player, but he hardly gets credit for it. And that’s just fine with him.
“It’s just not my time yet,” Thompson said.
If it’s not, it’s getting there.
Georgia’s young defense is rising as the season finishes, now ranking fourth in the SEC, and there’s an argument to be made that Thompson, its sophomore defensive tackle, has been the unit’s MVP.
Even if he was temporarily benched in the middle of the season.
Two years ago, Thompson was the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, according to 247Sports.com. Georgia went down to Albany and secured Thompson’s commitment in what was a relatively quiet fight for such a sought-after recruit. Thompson committed before his senior season, didn’t seek out publicity, and stuck with his commitment through signing day.
As a freshman, Thompson moved into the lineup in the latter half of the season, showing flashes of his potential. But it was difficult to get a lot of snaps on a senior-laden line.
This year, Thompson immediately began with a starting job, and again showed his potential – only to lose that starting spot midway through the season to a freshman, Julian Rochester.
“He had a spell in the middle of the season there where we thought Julian was practicing better and playing a little better than him, so Julian was playing a little more,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “Trenton has gone back to work and out-worked him, out-competed him.”
It was the Auburn game that Thompson regained the spot – at halftime of the game, actually. But Georgia rotates so many defensive lineman, and Thompson played so well even when he wasn’t starting, that Thompson’s demotion was hardly noticed.
Just the way he generally wants it.
“It’s good not having all that attention,” Thompson said. “I like being regular.”
Thompson is fourth on the team in tackles, with 45, something not easily done for a defensive tackle in a 3-4 base system. He’s second on the team with six tackles-for-loss, and also has two sacks.
It takes a keen eye to notice how Thompson impacts the game for Georgia’s defense. He’s not a defensive back grabbing interceptions or a linebacker racking up sacks. But Thompson, with his combination of size (6-foot-4 and 309 pounds) and athleticism pushes the pocket on passes, and creates a push against the run.
But sometimes he also just makes a play. Last Saturday, Louisiana-Lafayette tried a run on fourth-and-1 in the third quarter, and Thompson broke through with a leg tackle to end the drive, and help ice the game for Georgia.
“He’s just disruptive in the backfield a lot,” junior nose tackle John Atkins said. “You need someone like Trent on your team.”
“Trenton has really responded well to the adversity he’s had and he’s had some games that he’s really played well. And he’s got to continue to develop his technique, I would say,” Smart said. “But he is an explosive, athletic defensive tackle, which is hard to find.”
Thompson, asked how he’s done this season, flashed a grin. His answer betrayed a sense of confidence, but also an acknowledgement of what the coaches want to see, not just on Saturdays.
“I think I’ve had a pretty good season,” Thompson said. “I’ve taken coaching well. I make sure I don’t miss so many people, I make sure I make the plays I do at practice.”