ATHENS – There is a long list of things that Trent Thompson did not do on Wednesday night, when the nation’s top freshman met the Georgia media for the first time: He did not make any grand proclamations about himself or his future. He did not, well, even talk about himself.
Here’s what Thompson did do: He used the phrase “working hard” or “work hard” nine times in a five-minute span. He also, for good measure, said “kept grinding” a couple times.
Reporters tried, painfully so at times. But Thompson, the five-star defensive line recruit, used verbal swim moves to evade any talk of the massive expectations that surround him.
“I’m just here to help my team,” Thompson said. “I ain’t here to stand out.”
But he is, actually. Thompson was named the nation’s top overall recruit, regardless of position, in this year’s class by 247Sports.com. That made him the first No. 1 overall pick signed in coach Mark Richt’s tenure.
Thompson could be what takes Georgia’s defense to another level, giving it the star on the defensive line it has lacked the past few years.
And yet the attention around him as been intentionally small, both because that’s the way Richt wants it with all his players this preseason, and because it seems to be Thompson’s way.
“He’s obviously got big hype because he was such a big-time recruit,” said fellow freshman Nick Moore, an inside linebacker. “But he’s working just as hard as the next guy.”
Those meeting Thompson for the first time would be struck by his weight, or relative lack of it. In the past Georgia has had massive nose tackles, 350-pound plus guys John Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, But Thompson isn’t quite like them.
The plan is for Thompson to play both end and nose tackle, depending on the play. He is listed at 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, and his slender frame – at least for someone who’s 307 pounds – points to someone with the athletic ability to do that.
“He’s big and strong enough to do it inside, and he’s got enough quickness to play some edge stuff,” Richt said. “The big thing for him is like the rest of the freshmen, learn what to do, get in shape to play this kind of ball, then we’ll plug him in where he needs to be. But he’s got a pretty good range of being able to play across the board.”
The sooner Thompson can make an impact, the better for Georgia’s line. It lost several contributors from last year, including Mike Thornton, Ray Drew and Toby Johnson. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker likes to rotate in between six and eight players, so that opens spots for freshmen like Thompson, Jonathan Ledbetter and Justin Young.
Rocker and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have molded a strategy in which players don’t fit in the traditional position box: An end can move to nose tackle, and vice versa, and the nose tackle doesn’t have to be 350 pounds. Senior James DeLoach, for instance, is listed officially as a defensive tackle despite being 284 pounds.
Thompson fits right into that philosophy, while owning the potential to be a difference-maker. It’s been awhile since someone on Georgia’s defensive line has been a consistent force in the other team’s backfield.
Just don’t expect Richt to come out and say that yet. All he would allow on Wednesday was this: “Trent, we were definitely on the right track when we recruited them.”
And don’t expect it out of Thompson, who endured the occasionally awkward attempts by reporters to glean quotes.
Q: How versatile is he?
A: “I can’t really just say that. I’m just working hard every day to get better.”
Q: Are there any players you think you resemble?
A: “I really can’t say. I’m just working hard.”
Then he laughed, as did reporters.
One more try: Did you model yourself after someone?
“I can’t say that either,” he said, and laughed again.
When the media session was over, Thompson made a point of shaking hands with reporters. Then he walked away.