HAMMOND — Having been his teammate for the past two seasons, Southeastern Louisiana senior defensive tackle Ashton Henderson knows the reserved nature of senior defensive back Denzel Thompson.
During last week’s home game, with the offense on the field against Incarnate Word, the jovial Henderson decided to prod Thompson going into their series on the field.
“I was talking trash to him and told he hadn’t done anything for me during the game,” Henderson said, his laughter growing. “When he went back on the field, he made two plays back-to-back and then screamed my name. He let me know he did something.”
The majority of the Lions’ defense must have looked on in disbelief.
While it’s been commonplace for the 320-pound Henderson to have fun at the expense of a teammate, Thompson has conducted himself just the opposite as a dependable player that’s rarely above audible.
“He’s more of a shy guy,” said coach Ron Roberts, whose team travels to Abilene Christian for a Southland Conference game at 2 p.m. Saturday. “He’s a good representative of our athletic program. At times has played unbelievable and has had some big-time games here.”
Thompson — a 6-foot-3, 200-pound native of Clearwater, Florida — has the distinction of being the team’s lone remaining link to former Southeastern coach Mike Lucas.
Defensive line coach Brandon Lacy was the school’s lead recruiter for Thompson, who because of an injury-filled career at Countryside High School left SLU in play for his services — along with Division II Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
Thompson also eschewed the possibility of going to junior college, making an early connection with Lacy and falling for the school during his official visit — despite rumors Lucas could be on his way out.
“There were things going around about it, but you don’t believe those things are going to happen,” Thompson said. “Coach Lacy treated me nice and I felt during my official visit Southeastern would be a good place to start a new chapter of my life. I also grew attached to the players on my visit.”
Things changed quickly for Thompson, who redshirted in 2011 and learned behind stellar cornerbacks Robert Alford and Todd Washington.
The Lions finished 3-8 overall and 1-6 in conference play; Lucas was fired days after the Nicholls State game; and Roberts was hired.
“Even though he didn’t recruit me, he’s done a lot for me since he’s taken over,” Thompson said of Roberts.
Thompson’s playing time was gradual. He saw time in 10 games with two starts as a redshirt freshman. He had nine tackles, a forced fumble and interception.
“Robert and Todd had always driven me in practice and believed in me,” Thompson said. “That gave me a lot of confidence. They always told me to go all out every day and do the best I could.”
Thompson was a big part of Southeastern’s two SLC championship teams, combining to play in 27 games over that span, when he had 67 tackles, 16 pass deflections and six interceptions.
A year ago, Thompson enjoyed a breakthrough season with a career-high 43 stops, eight pass deflections and four interceptions, earning All-SLC second-team honors.
Thompson, a preseason All-SLC first-team choice this year, has started in half of SLU’s eight games with 31 tackles — including a career-high 11 against Central Arkansas — to go along with five pass deflections, three tackles for loss and an interception in last week’s game.
“I’m glad to say I was a part of it,” Thompson said of the program’s success during his career. “We changed something around. I think we made the program better than it was before. That’s always something to be proud.”