ALBANY –Tim Ellis was leaning against the wall on the corner of his restaurant on South Slappey Boulevard when a black sports car pulled into a parking spot in front of him. A young man stepped out and approached him.
“Got a minute to talk?” he asked Ellis.
“Not right now,” Ellis replied. “Whacha need?”
“I was wondering if you could get a message to Trent for me,” the young man asked. “I just wanted to know how he is. Could you tell him I asked about him? Could you ask him to give me a call?”
“Sure thing,” Ellis answered. “No problem.”
Ellis is Trent Thompson’s uncle and runs Good Times Wings, Shrimp & Fish along with Thompson’s great aunt, Melinda Hicks. The small eatery, located next to the Pace gas station and convenience store, is known for serving some of the best fresh seafood in Southwest Georgia. To this I can personally attest, having now had the shrimp there twice.
The young man coming to see Ellis was Julian Colwell, one of Thompson’s friends and a former teammate at Westover High School. Ellis said he gets such requests for information about Thompson, or to get messages to him, “every day, a few times a day at least.”
Everybody in town knows that Thompson and his Uncle Tim have a close relationship and that Good Times remains one of Thompson’s favorite haunts. When he’s in town, Thompson stops by there pretty much every day. Two of his Westover jerseys and a framed photo of Thompson in his Georgia uniform posing with Uga hang on the wall of the restaurant.
But Thompson and his family have gone dark, and nobody knows how to get in touch with them. Both Thompson and his mother, Bridgette Flewellen, have changed their cell-phone numbers. Very rarely can either one be found at their West Albany home these days.
For long while, Flewellen was with Thompson in Athens. This week, Trent and his mother are on a mini-vacation in Panama City Beach, according to Ellis. UGA is currently on spring break.
“They just needed to get away a little while,” he said.
Pretty much everybody in that family has put their lives on hold since the events of Feb. 23. That was the night police and emergency response personnel were drawn to the Joe Frank Harris commons area of the UGA campus to determine what was the matter with Thompson.
Nobody can say for sure for what it was that left Thompson staggering through campus delirious and nearly catatonic. The official statement of police was it appeared he had a bad reaction to some sort of medication. But others who are close to Thompson and his family say the sophomore football star has been “overwhelmed” by life circumstances, is “dealing with a lot of stress,” and battling a medical condition that causes extremely high blood pressure.
“It’s a lot of things,” said Ellis, who has seen Thompson “a couple times” since all this happened. “Mainly it’s all that pressure he’s putting on himself. Trent, he’s a country boy, and he’s up there with 40,000 people on that big ol’ campus. But he’s going to be all right. It might just take a while. He just needs people’s support.”
Ellis said his nephew has been “out of sorts” for a while. He had surgery in January for a shoulder injury he played with most of last season, then was “really upset” after his position coach Tracy Rocker abruptly left the team without explanation in early February.
“I know they say you don’t sign with a school because of the coaches, because they move around so much, but they were really close,” Ellis said of Thompson and Rocker. “He’s the main reason he went there. That was tough on him.”
Meanwhile, Octavia Jones, Thompson’s coach at Westover High, saw Thompson this past weekend in Atlanta. He met Thompson and his mother at Walter’s Shoes and Clothing downtown.
Jones said Thompson was getting some new sneakers for his size 18EE feet.
“He was buying some shoes, doing some shopping,” Jones said while sitting on the bleachers in the gymnasium at Westover High. “He looked good. His eyes have cleared up, he’s got his blood pressure under control. He’s getting better”
There was only one thing out of the ordinary, Jones said.
“He’s lost a lot of weight,” he said. “He looks more like a defensive end than a defensive tackle.”
Thompson played defensive tackle for the Bulldogs last fall at about 310 pounds. He earned defensive and overall MVP honors for Georgia’s win over TCU in the Liberty Bowl and finished the season as the Bulldogs’ leading tackler among down-linemen.
Asked if Thompson was below 300 pounds now, Jones said, “oh, yeah. More like 265 or 270. He still has his muscles, he’s just not as thick.”
Thompson remains on weight-lifting restriction since the surgery, Jones said. He was not expected to participate in spring practice even if he had not withdrawn from school, which he did the day after the on-campus incident.
“I think it’s stress, I really do,” Jones said. “I think he’s feeling a lot of pressure. And all the stuff with Coach Rocker really bothered him. I still haven’t heard from anybody who can tell me what happened with all that.”
Ellis concurs. He said Thompson needed to withdraw from school to attend to his physical and emotional issues, which he’s doing. But he expects Thompson to return by this summer and possibly by UGA’s May “mini-semester.” The NCAA makes allowances for its satisfactory-progress rule if classes are missed to deal with a medical condition.
“He’s good, he’s fine,” Ellis said. “I went up there (to Athens) to see him and he looked a lot better. His mother’s with him now. She’s got to make sure he’s taking his medicine right and all that. It’s all good.”
Such is the report Ellis cites pretty much every day.