UNION COUNTY — A Jonesville native and former Union County Yellow Jacket has set the stage for success on the football field at Limestone College.
Former Yellow Jacket defensive tackle DeShawn Thompson said he is inspired by the thought of being a hometown hero.
Thompson said his attitude about football changed just before his junior year at Union County High School.
“My 9th grade year, I was nowhere near what I was my senior year,” Thompson said. “My 9th grade year, I was lazy, slow, weak, just didn’t really care about football. It was about the same going into my 10th grade year. I didn’t get my way, and I quit.”
Thompson said UCHS coaches talked with him and made him completely rethink his future.
“Coach L. (Union County defensive coach Jon Langenfeld) sat down and talked with me at the beginning of my junior year,” Thompson said. “He told me I really had talent, and he saw it in me. He just started working with me — in the weight room, watching film — just really letting me know I could make it to the next level. He turned me into a monster.”
Thompson said Langenfeld gave him a newfound inspiration when he said he thought Thompson had college potential.
“When I heard that, I just thought, ‘free education,’” Thompson said, adding that he never thought of playing football at the college level was a possibility before talking with Langenfeld. “I listened to everything he said from then on.”
Even with an injury, Thompson finished his junior year at UCHS with 58 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks. During the summer before his senior year, Thompson vowed to work hard, study film and his opponents, and to improve.
During summer practices following his junior year, Thompson was named one of the team captains. Then-head coach Steve Taneyhill also praised Thompson during that summer.
“His talent is apparent,” Taneyhill said. “He had a great year last year, and he worked really hard in the off season. He’s a quick guy for a 300-pounder.”
Thompson was also awarded with a special hard hat, which is an honor among Yellow Jacket football players during spring and summer practices. Taneyhill said the “hard hat winner” is a guy who comes in to work every day in spring practice.
“That’s kind of a big thing for us — who gets that hard hat helmet,” Taneyhill said.
Thompson finished his senior year at UCHS with 67 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, four sacks and three fumble recoveries. He eventually signed to play with the Limestone College Saints — something he said he never would have done without the inspiration of his coaches.
Thompson — who was 6’1” and 292 pounds coming out of high school — said he has put on muscle during this freshman year of college and now weighs in at 306 pounds. Thompson was red-shirted this year, but he said Limestone Head Coach Mike Furrey has high expectations of him after watching him work hard.
“I’m looking at starting at defensive tackle next season,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he has gotten adjusted to college life and learning to be more responsible with many of his homework and assignments being submitted online rather than turning them in to teachers on paper.
“I’m making sure I keep my grades up and maintain my weight because (Furrey) said he’s going to throw me in there next year and see what I can do,” Thompson said.
Thompson also said the transition from the high school football field to the college field has been a fairly smooth one.
“Coach Taneyhill had us doing everything already,” Thompson said. “In a way, his practices were really harder than the college practices. It felt like a natural habitat to me. The only difference is everything gets faster in college; you have to be really physical in college.”
Thompson said he plans to continue working with his strength coach in the off season, fine tuning his fast-twitch muscles; his lateral movement, going sideline to sideline; and keeping up his cardiovascular conditioning while maintaining his strength.
“I can tell when I’m in shape,” he said. “When I’m in shape, I just try to maintain that.”
Even though Thompson is now one of the Limestone Saints, he is still a Yellow Jacket at heart, and he attended each of Union County’s home games this year.
“Every time I come back to a game, it just gets to me,” Thompson said. “Once you leave high school, you want to come back so bad and play football. It’s just playing with your friends that you grew up with there, and you don’t get to play with them anymore. So that’s really what gets you.”
Thompson said he was impressed with what he saw at Union County games.
“I really didn’t expect them to do that well, just due to the fact that they had a new coach, but they were communicating well; the chemistry was there; and plus, they made it to the playoffs, so you can’t complain about that,” Thompson said.
Thompson said he also made sure to visit with Langenfeld at each game, always remembering his inspiring words that made Thompson believe he could actually play in college.
“Every time I go to a game, I go down and see him, shake his hand and give him a hug,” Thompson said.
Thompson said several current Yellow Jackets ask him advice about being successful at the college level.
“I try to lead them in the right direction,” he said. “I tell them to remain humble and keep those grades up. Without those grades, those college coaches aren’t really going to fool with you.”
Thompson said he also stresses to younger players the importance of being respectful.
“In high school, I always said ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ and greeted people,” he said. “Every time I go back, they have nothing but good things to say about me. So that’s a big thing, too, just treating people with respect.”
Thompson said Limestone’s Coach Currey likes Union County players, after seeing the ones he has coached. Thompson said he put in a word for current Union County players Chris Johnson and Quadrik Smith, both of whom have now received offers.
When asked about where he sees himself a few years down the road, Thompson said he ideally wants to be looked at by NFL scouts.
“I just want to do something positive with this football thing, but if that doesn’t work, I still have a plan with my education,” he said.
Thompson’s fall-back plan still includes football, however. His major is physical education, and he said he has thought of coaching, thanks to inspiration from his current and former coaches.
“Coach L. (Langenfeld) had such a big impact on me wanting to coach,” Thompson said. “Seeing how he worked with me and what he built me into — it was amazing.”
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-762-4128.