Trent Thompson: Path To The NFL Draft

By Simon Carroll

In NFL Draft circles there’s a saying; ‘you don’t need every team to fall in love with you – just one’. For the blue-chip prospects out there, it’s not something they need to concern themselves with. But for most young hopefuls, that affection proves sadly elusive.

Trent Thompson understands this notion; five years ago, he experienced the very same thing in his college recruiting. Just one FBS school offered him an opportunity of both an education and a collegiate career. It was a chance he refused to squander, and now the former UTEP tight end hopes to impress a professional team in a similar fashion. He sat down with Simon Carroll to discuss his path to the NFL Draft:

A Football Family

In Texas, there are the three F’s; Faith, Family, and Football. And not necessarily in that order. From as young as he could remember, Trent Thompson had all three:

“Oh it was a huge football family. Ever since I was just five years old I would be out on the street, playing ball with the other kids. And every Saturday me, my brothers and my dad would watch College Football for hours at a time. College football was my first love; we didn’t usually get chance to watch the NFL because we’d be at church on Sundays. But Saturdays were always free, and we’d start watching maybe 10am until late at night.”

Growing up in Houston with his mother Charlotte, father Roy, three brothers and sister, sport dominated Trent’s young life. It was unsurprising really; Roy had played football at Rice, and Trent’s cousin Taylor would go on to star at Houston Baptist. And it didn’t end there; his uncle Steve was a linebacker at UTEP when he met his future wife Carmelita, who herself played collegiate volleyball. For Trent and his elder brother Blake, it was the perfect environment to cultivate their own sporting ambitions.

At Cypress Falls High School, The Thompson brothers dived into football at the earliest opportunity. As a lot of talented kids did, Trent was happy to contribute on either side of the ball, and his physical style of play was appreciated as both a tight end and defensive end:

“At high school, I just wanted to do anything and everything I could to get to the next level. I wanted to play Division 1 football, so if that meant playing fullback, or edge rusher, I was willing to do it. And when I got to college, I was happy to do the same again.”

"I Was One Of The Last Guys They Offered"

Playing college football was no guarantee. As a young man, Thompson suffered badly from asthma, and in a moment of poignancy reflected on the time in his life where doing what he loved was almost put in jeopardy:

“Asthma was a big problem when I was younger. My chest would get tight after just a bunch of running. And I was concerned that it could take football away from me. But when I got into high school, I took steps to minimise it’s impact. I totally changed my diet, and made a concerted effort to take on more fluids. I’m happy to say that it’s no longer a problem and my conditioning is fine. But it just reinforced how much I wanted to play the game, and how there are no guarantees in football.”

There were more bumps in the road to navigate for Thompson. Unranked as a high school prospect, recruiting interest at the highest level was thin on the ground. But one man saw something that others did not. Dana Dimel, then the offensive coordinator for Kansas State, was the only coach to keep in contact with Thompson as his senior year progressed. Sadly for Trent, Coach Dimel would find himself a casualty of the regime change in Manhattan when the legendary Bill Snyder retired:

“Other than Coach Dimel, nobody at the D1 level wanted me. I had a bunch of D2 offers, but was still holding out hope. But then Coach was fired at K-State and I was short of options.”

The next part of this story feels a little like destiny, as within weeks Dimel was named head coach at UTEP, the school where Thompson’s uncle had graced the gridiron. He kept him hanging on, but finally Thompson got the call he was dreaming of:

“Coach made me wait for it! I guess it was the beginning of a long process for him, filling out the roster, recruiting high school guys and recruiting juco guys. Even then I think I was one of the last guys they offered, but I didn’t mind. I was just thankful for the opportunity.”

Team-First Mentality

Like a lot of freshmen, Thompson redshirted his first season on campus. But despite being recruited as a defensive end and yet to see the field, Dana Dimel was mindful that he had both history and ability on the other side of the ball. And he wasn’t afraid to suggest a position change to allow Thompson to show what he could do:

“It was actually the day before my first Fall camp of 2018. Coach called me up and suggested that, if it didn’t work out at defensive end, we should switch to tight end-fullback. He knew I’d played a bit of h-back before and had some success, and I was all for it. On defense, I was purely a D-End. On offense, I could line up in the back field, on the line or as a hybrid. That gave me a lot more opportunities to see the field.”

A naturally quiet but confident man, Thompson neither over elaborates an answer or avoids a question. Exuding a certain understanding of the real value of being able to fulfill the less glamorous roles of football, Trent took pride in being given reps at fullback early in his time at El Paso:

“My position, now, is tight end. But I really enjoyed playing fullback those early years. It allowed me to demonstrate my versatility, something that will give me added value at the next level. I hope to play tight end, h-back, and fullback – I want to do everything. Special teams is another aspect of the game that is really important to me – I just want to be on that field as long as I can be.”

I ask him whether his willingness to take team-orientated roles on offense at college may have limited his impact on the stats column, and consequently capped the amount of exposure he received. Thompson was unfazed by it, suggesting it allowed him to develop other traits that will be cherished by talent evaluators:

“I’ll do anything to help the team win. And my game definitely developed in all aspects over my few years at UTEP. I like to think my leadership role has progressed as well; from a quiet freshman to a veteran who leads by example, takes no plays off, and commits himself to every role. A lot of my teammates, particularly in my position groups, looked up to me. Luke Seib, Julian Lopez, James Tupou; they all respected my work ethic and ability, and what I brought to the team by being willing to do whatever it takes.”

Raising The Standard

The idea of doing what’s needed isn’t just cliché draft prospect talk from Thompson; he lived and breathed it in El Paso. The Miners have a modest football history at best, and his first two years on campus UTEP won just one game. But culture isn’t created overnight. And it soon became apparent that Coach Dimel had focused on building a roster of men with high character that would pay dividends down the line. Sure enough, UTEP went from one win, to three, before winning seven games in 2021. Thompson is quick to make sure credit for that success is disseminated amongst those that deserve it:

“That steady progression, it wasn’t just something that I did, it was a team effort. It was me at tight end, Jacob Cowing at receiver, Tyrice Knight at linebacker, Elijah Klein and Andrew Meyer at center and guard – we all grew at the same time and became a real team because of it. It’s not an individual sport, and I’m just thankful I got to play with those guys. 2021 was a really fun year, getting to go to the New Mexico Bowl. It’s a memory I’ll cherish.”

Thompson’s humility is so steadfast he fails to mention the fifty yard TD reception he put up in that bowl game, one of two scores he had that day. He may have gone under the radar his entire football career, but with size, power, speed and good hands, there’s very little to dislike about the game that he has honed over five years in the desert. I finally manage to coax him into talking about himself, and his ability to step up in the biggest games across his career:

“Texas, Oklahoma, against our rivals UTSA, and that bowl game against Fresno – these are the games I typically thrive in. When the pressure is on and some guys don’t show their heads, I step up.”

UTEP Family

An obvious source of pride for Thompson was the ability to play alongside his brother in El Paso. Blake Thompson is a year older than Trent, but had a more convoluted route to D1 football than his sibling, spending some time in JuCo. Whilst an NFL career may not necessarily be in Blake’s future, Trent found a moment to extol the virtues of having a family member there to share the good times and the bad:

“Last year was Blake’s sixth season, so he’s probably finished at UTEP too. It was special to share this experience with him. It wasn’t just playing – we roomed together, bought groceries together, travelled together; we’re a close family. Having your brother in the trenches with you was unique, and something I’ll never forget.”

It’s clear that Thompson is a thoughtful, intelligent and empathetic man. We have a mutual appreciation for the beautiful mountainous backdrop of Sun Bowl Stadium. We laugh about the brutal El Paso heat that would ‘melt your feet’ in Summer Camp. He’s the only draft prospect ever to start asking me questions, pressing me on my interest in college football and the NFL Draft. And after learning he had a degree in accounting, I suggest he could be the next Carl Nassib on Hard Knocks, teaching his future teammates about compound interest. He humours me, but wants me to know that, hailing from a household that is big on education, earning that qualification was the proudest moment of his collegiate career. After he’s finished with football, I am left in no doubt that Trent Thompson will be an asset in whatever endeavour he wishes to pursue.

NFL Exposure

But that can wait. Football is far from over for Thompson, who is now fully focused on achieving his NFL dream. After his development on offense at UTEP, he was invited to the Hula Bowl to showcase his talents in front of NFL scouts.

“It was a great experience. I got to talk to a few teams; The Buccaneers, Jets and Jaguars. But also, I got to play running back too. They lined me up at fullback and tight end, and I showed my capabilities. But playing running back was a real eye opener. I felt comfortable there, and it’s another string to my bow. Line me up anywhere in that backfield and I can do it.”

Trent talks about special teams once again. It may seem unsurprising; after all, participating on those units is a gateway to playing time for most NFL rookies. And yet, last year just one of ten prospects I interviewed mentioned it. Thompson isn’t just willing to be a key special teams contributor – he relishes it:

“Unless your name is Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen, special teams is the way into the NFL. A guy like me, I have to play on every special teams unit possible. Playing special teams in the NFL isn’t a chore, it’s a privilege. I just want to be on that field.”

"This Is A Family Event. It's Not An Individual Thing"

The Trent Thompson’s of this world won’t have the luxury of attending the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Instead, his last opportunity to impress NFL scouts will be at his pro day. The date for UTEP’s pro day is yet to be determined, but Thompson surprises me by suggesting he may conduct his elsewhere:

“They’re considering two dates at UTEP right now, but I might actually do my pro day at Houston. The rule is you can do it at a school within a fifty mile radius of your hometown, and Houston is in that area. There’ll likely be more scouts in attendance, and with me working out in Houston it’s so much easier than having to drive or fly back to El Paso.”

We discuss the shift in his training focus. Trent tells me he enjoys competing against himself, explaining that being in control of everything allows him to get better. He’s conscious that some people aren’t expecting him to thrive against the stopwatch, but he’s banking on himself to prove the doubters wrong.

We discuss ideal landing spots. He admits a fondness for the in-state Cowboys and Texans, but professess a deep appreciation for the Chiefs, suggesting that playing in a scheme that rewards versatility like KC does would be ideal. And yet, the passion for the game is so obvious, I’d wager he would be happy to go anywhere that gave him an opportunity.

As my frugality betrays me and my free Zoom account means the meeting starts to run out of time, we reluctantly wrap up the conversation. I ask him what it would mean if he got a call from Jerry Jones, or Nick Caserio – or any NFL GM – on draft weekend.

“That would be surreal. I wouldn’t even know what to say. I’d just be so thankful because you’re not here on your own. I’m staying in my parents house right now, who have supported me the whole way. So this is a family event. It’s not an individual thing.”

Faith, Family, and Football isn’t just the Texas mantra. It’s the Trent Thompson mantra.

Mock Draft





A huge thank you to Trent for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchown wishes him well in his future career.