Five years ago, Deonte Thompson was a can’t-miss prospect.
Visions of numerous touchdowns and dizzy defenders danced around in Gators fans’ heads when he picked Florida back in 2007.
But things haven’t exactly panned out for the redshirt senior receiver. He went from being labeled as can’t-miss to can’t-catch, as his hands have been his worst enemy at times.
Thompson has always wowed with his speed, but his hands have kept him back. And it’s no secret to him. He’s heard all of the negativity about his questionable pass-catching ability.
In his final season in Gainesville, Thompson is out to quiet his critics and lead his Gators.
"I’m just looking to help my team win any way possible. That’s what it’s all about, getting the ‘W,’" Thompson said. "You get the win, everything else falls in place."
Buried under his mistakes are 80 career receptions for 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns. Thompson admits he expected more during his career, and that fuels him for the fall.
Thompson took his summer workouts to the extreme by training with Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy and Cornelius Ingram. Working out in Gainesville, the four NFLers ran Thompson through a rigorous combination of passing drills and conditioning.
Thompson came away both exhausted and confident. He watched as the more reps he took the slower the ball came and the more his concentration grew.
"It’s given me another aspect of my game, stepping up a whole new level," Thompson said.
Thompson exudes new swagger and confidence. He flashes that boyish smile that was his high school trademark, but things weren't always this fun. He might have a more positive attitude, but there were times when he fell into a discouraging funk. He reached out to friends and family when he was at his lowest, but it was his embattled quarterback who he communicated most with.
Like Thompson, quarterback John Brantley has been draped in criticism. Heralded as one of the best to ever throw the ball in the state of Florida, Brantley hardly looked capable of running a college offense in his first year as a starter.
Together, the two have spent time picking the other one up, but enter the 2011 season planning to stay up.
"Deonte and I are real close," Brantley said. "We’ve been to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. We’ve been through it all together and we want to be able to stick it out with each other the rest of this last year."
The two are so close that when Brantley finally decided that he wasn't transferring in January, Thompson was the first teammate he told.
When these two first got together in 2007, they envisioned a Brantley-to-Thompson combo being one of the best in the conference, if not the nation. They developed an on-field chemistry that made them nearly unstoppable to beat in practice.
And while that didn't transfer to the field last fall, there has been no lost love or trust.
"He’s my boy and I’ll always believe in him," Brantley said of Thompson. "I’ll always have his back, no matter what, and I think he’s going to have a great year."
Thompson feels the same about Brantley, but expects so much more from himself. He's ready for the hate and doubt. And he's ready to prove people wrong, flashing that confident smile in the process.
"I feel like I can be successful this year," he said. "Last year, if you asked me I’d say the same thing. I don’t go into the season thinking this isn’t going to be my year.
"This is the last go-round. Gotta make it happen.
"I just want to be one of the top receivers in the SEC. I just want to win. When you win, everything falls in place."