Colin Thompson stands tall

The measure of Warminster (Pa.) Archbishop Wood High School's Colin Thompson as a football player is a big one. He's 6-foot-4, 255 pounds and ESPNU's No. 1 tight end in the class of 2012.

But the measure of Colin Thompson as a young man is even bigger, a fact to which Kathy Shulby is only too happy to attest.

Shulby's son, John, has Down syndrome. John met Colin when they were in the eighth grade at Holicong Middle School in Doylestown, Pa. Colin was assigned to be John's buddy at a track meet to ensure he got to all of his events safely.

"That was the beginning of a friendship that has blossomed," Kathy Shulby said.

Despite Thompson transferring out of Holicong and then going on to a different high school than John Shulby, the two remained close.

"It brings tears to my eyes," Kathy Shulby said. "It's been a wonderful journey for John, Colin and our family."

The Shulbys followed Thompson's football career and went to his games. They befriended his parents. Archbishop Wood High School started a program called Athletes Helping Athletes, and Thompson took an active role. John Shulby became honorary captain of the Vikings football team.

"John goes on the field and participates in the coin toss with the captains," Kathy Shulby said. "They play golf together. It's a friendship that we never expected, and it's one of the best things to ever happen to John. It's not just the friendship and acceptance with Colin that's so great, but also with his teammates. It's truly been an unbelievable and wonderful experience."

Colin said he gets just as much of a boost from John as John does him.

"John is one of my best friends," Thompson said. "He is an inspiration to myself and our football team to be better people. He is a great kid, and he will do great things in life. I love him. He's a big part of my family and our football family."

None of this is surprising to Steve Devlin. The Archbishop Wood coach encourages his players to be active participants in the community.

"We do a lot as a team," Devlin said. "I want our players to realize just how fortunate they are, and I want them all to do some big things out there. They all need to make an impact, and you can see the happiness they bring to other people. It's life changing. Each year we always take on an organization and help out. We have done Special Olympics, leukemia. We have done camps for those organizations. It's been a great experience for everyone."

Devlin expects Thompson, one of his team captains, to take a lead role on the field and off.

"Colin and John have a unique relationship," Devlin said. "John is such a great kid. It touches your heart to see those two together."

Thompson grew up playing baseball and hockey in addition to football. But he knows what he does best, which is block, catch and run. This four-star prospect is a versatile talent.

"I block well at the point of attack," Thompson said. "I am also a mismatch in the red zone. I can catch the football. I can play in the slot, motion out of the backfield and play a little fullback. I am a complete player and my coach does a great job of moving me around."

Last season Thompson caught 13 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns. But don't let his stats fool you.

"We spread him around and do a lot of different things," Devlin said. "Colin has size and is a great leverage blocker. He has hands and runs very good routes. We use him in our play-action game. Colin is smart and very determined. He's the captain of our team and has been a leader of our team since his sophomore year. That's just the type of kid he is."

Thompson has patterned his game after a couple of tight ends who've made a big mark in the game -- Jeremy Shockey and Jason Witten.

"I have always admired those two players, especially the way they handle themselves on the field," Thompson said. "They are tough guys with great hands. They are tremendous blockers and strong runners after the catch. I emulate what they do. They are great tight ends. They were great in college and have been in the pros, too."

Thompson has already made his college decision. He committed to Florida last month, giving the Gators a prototype tight end. But there was so much more for Thompson about picking UF.

"In the end I just realized that there was no better place for me in the country than Florida," Thompson said. "I visited 15 schools, and I wanted to find the right place for me. Florida has great football, it's a great school and Gainesville is a great town. Florida is the complete package with great people. The coaching staff is highly respected. I have become friends with them."

In fact, Thompson has become especially close to Charlie Weis, Florida's new offensive coordinator.

"The fact is if Charlie Weis wasn't there they may not have even offered me," Thompson said. "He has been a big influence on me. How can you say no to Charlie Weis? He has intangibles, and I have nothing but great things to say about him. He will succeed there. There are no excuses for Florida because he's their offensive coordinator."

And of course, Thompson believes in new Gators head coach Will Muschamp.

"I love his vision," Thompson said. "There is just something about him. He's so positive. There's not a negative bone in his body. I remember when I committed to him I got a big 'Yahoo!' out of him. I think Coach Muschamp is a huge pickup for Florida."

Thompson gives something new to Florida, a throwback tight end with size. He's a guy that can play in-line and add to their run game. He will be a part of their future passing game.

"They don't have that pro-style tight end really on that roster," Devlin said. "Everything they are going to do fits what Colin does best. He will be a great player for Florida. It's a great match for both."

Now it's up to Thompson.

"I will work hard and leave it all on the field and in the classroom," Thompson said. "I will shoot for the stars and achieve at the University of Florida. And I will help Florida win."

Just like he helped John Shulby make it to all of his events at that track meet.