College football recruiting, much like anything in sports, can be prone to its fair share of hyperbole.
Still, sometimes a statement is made so plainly it at first seems completely normal and then, after a beat, it catches you a bit off-guard.
Grayson High recruiting coordinator Kenyatta Watson Sr. on Friday afternoon told the Journal Star that Nebraska football’s newest verbal commitment, running back Ronald Thompkins II, is the best football player the Rams have. Period. No argument about it.
That’s Grayson High, which has at least 11 class of 2019 players verbally pledged to Power Five schools. That’s Grayson High, which has three of the top 90 and four of the top 175 players in the nation according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, including Watson’s own son and five-star Auburn commit Owen Pappoe.
But the best football player, regardless of recruiting rankings? In the elder Watson’s estimation as Grayson’s college recruiting coordinator, that’s the 6-foot, 203-pound Thompkins.
“He does everything well, he’s the glue guy, he’s just the heart and soul of our team,” Watson said. “He could be our best receiver, he can throw the ball, he can run the ball. He’s the kid in the neighborhood that when you’re picking teams, he’s the kid you always pick first.”
Thompkins missed all but six games of his junior season with a knee injury, but had 414 yards rushing and 201 receiving before getting hurt. And while Grayson certainly could have used him down the stretch, it hardly slowed his recruitment.
Thompkins, a three-star prospect in the 247Sports composite, was verbally committed to Florida State until late September. He took official visits in the spring to LSU and Penn State, and also visited Auburn, among many others. He’s never been to Lincoln, though he’s hoping to make it here for June 22’s Friday Night Lights camp. That didn’t deter him from knowing he wanted to commit to the Huskers, thanks in large part to his relationship with running backs coach Ryan Held.
“We have a great relationship,” Thompkins said. “I think one of the most (important) things is he wasn’t annoying at all. That’s what kind of helped me make the decision. A lot of coaches, you never have your space or whatever, but he told me to go enjoy my recruitment. But, at the end of the day, he always told me where home was.”
Watson Sr. said Thompkins’ decision essentially turned into a two-horse race between NU and Alabama, which offered in early March. The Huskers came on strong in the past month or so, especially as head coach Scott Frost got more involved.
On May 8, Thompkins listed a top four of Penn State, Mississippi State, Tennessee and USC.
“Coach Held reached out and said, ‘I’m still going to recruit this kid, I really like this kid,’” Watson said.
But while the end of Thompkins’ recruitment came into focus in recent weeks, members of the Huskers’ coaching staff have been interested for years. Former head coach Mike Riley and running backs coach Reggie Davis recruited Thompkins, too, so when the new staff got to Grayson, Thompkins quickly came up. But he wasn’t a new name. NU tight ends coach and Georgia recruiting lead Sean Beckton first saw the dynamic back as an eighth-grader.
“He’s always said, ‘Hey, how’s that running back?’ Always checked in,” Watson said. “Recruiting is a relational business and you never know where you’ll end up. … They did a really good job of recruiting him and just building the relationship.”
Thompkins also had extensive conversations with Grayson grads and current Huskers Mohamed Barry and Breon Dixon.
“They just let me know that everything is family up there,” Thompkins said. “Great facilities and everybody takes care of you. That’s what they mostly preached to me.”
The back is primed for a big senior season on a powerhouse team. Watson says if the Rams played tonight, Thompkins would be their starting running back. Thompkins himself thinks he could play slot, receiver or defensive back, but he’s always been a running back. No matter where the Husker line him up, whether it’s primarily in the backfield or as the "Duck R" spot that past standout like De’Anthony Thomas and Kenjon Barner manned at Oregon, Watson thinks it’s a match made in football heaven.
“He reminds me a lot of Kenjon, but he can be a feature guy,” Watson said. “Because he’s so big. He can do anything that you want. That offense fits him perfectly.”
That made Thompkins too good for NU to pass up, even though he’s the third running back in a nine-man class, joining Thomas Grayson (Tulsa, Oklahoma) and Rahmir Johnson (Oradell, New Jersey). The Huskers now have the No. 31 class in the nation according to the 247Sports composite and No. 28 by Rivals.