SAN JOSE — Deionte Thompson was a four-star recruit coming out of West-Orange Stark High School in southeast Texas, rated as one of the top five prep safeties in the nation.
Thompson had offers from LSU, Notre Dame, Stanford, USC, Oklahoma, Florida State, Texas and Texas A&M, but he chose to join the Alabama juggernaut. The start of his college career didn’t go according to plan.
Crimson Tide coaches had him play offense as a freshman — he also was an accomplished receiver in high school — but moved him back to defense the next year. Thompson sat and impatiently waited his turn, but he has thrived this season during his time in the spotlight.
Thompson is widely considered the nation’s best free safety, someone who should be a first-round pick should he declare for the NFL draft. That would happen after Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship against Clemson at Levi’s Stadium.
Thompson was frustrated while down the depth chart, and even thought about switching schools. His parents talked him out of it, and understands now that might have been the best thing for his career.
“That’s where the phrase ‘trust the process’ comes in,” Thompson said Saturday at media day at SAP Center. “Some people think it’s just something to say, something to sound cool, but you actually have to do it. You have to wait your turn.
"Some guys are naturally equipped to play right away, but that’s not everyone’s story. Some guys have to trust the process, like I did. It’s about trust and hard work and perseverance to get the results you want.”
The process has led Thompson to a great spot. He’s having an excellent redshirt junior season, with 75 tackles, two interceptions, six passes defensed and three forced fumbles.
Thompson takes pride in leading the Crimson Tide’s secondary, often as the last line of defense. It’s a role he takes seriously.
“Deionte has approached this game, this season from the mental aspect with a hunger,” Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said. “Deionte is one of those guys that's consistently in our building when you don't necessarily have to be. He's studying film, he's studying our self-scout, he's looking at his own personal mannerisms, demeanor, what he can do differently to improve, and that's the part that's been impressive with him is his attack from the mental approach, not just depending on his talent and his range.”
Thompson’s talent and range has many predicting he’ll be drafted in the middle of the first round.
That’s a no man’s land for the Raiders, who need a ballhawk free safety in the worst way. They have the No. 4 overall pick and two more first-rounders, in the 20s at least, that were acquired in the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades.
They could trade up to get Thompson, but sacrificing pick volume seems dangerous, especially with other safeties of interest available further down in the draft.
Thompson is trying to keep the draft out of his mind for another few days at least, despite the hefty paychecks that would come after proving himself an excellent defensive back this season.
“I don’t look at any of that,” Thompson said. “(The draft talk) has been going on all season, but I just focus on the here and now. I don’t look ahead. I do everything I can to stay in the moment."