Vols Eye JUCO Prize

Justin Thompson may not be a name Tennessee fans are familiar with now, but it's a good bet it's a name they will frequently inquire about in the future.

Such is the value of big defensive tackles that can control two gaps and shove the pocket down a quarterback's throat. That's what the 6-foot-5, 290-pound D-lineman did last fall as a freshman at El Camino Community College in California. Playing both strong-side tackle and nose tackle for a Warrior squad that won the Golden State JUCO title and finished No. 2 nationally, Thompson compiled 45 tackles, 10 for losses, five sacks and 20 quarterback hurries.

A highlight tape of Justin Thompson's stellar 2006 season was sent out a couple of weeks ago and the offers have been pouring in ever since, according to El Camino assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Tim Hyde.

"Just this week alone he has received offers from Tennessee, LSU, Miami, Hawaii, Oregon State, Arizona and Nebraska," Hyde said. "That's just from this week. He's also getting interest from Alabama. Georgia and Ohio State."

Thompson is also hearing from a nearby college that rarely offers junior college players, but appear ready to make an exception in this case.

"We are actually visiting USC on Monday," Hyde said. "USC has his tape and they've already told us they like what they see. No offer yet but they are going to recruit him and Coach (Pete) Carroll is coming to one of our spring workouts. We went to S.C.'s first practice and left a tape. They called us around midnight wanting to know who is this kid?"

The thing that jumps off the screen when coaches watch tape of Thompson is his ability to get off the ball and get the upper hand on offensive linemen. He also plays with outstanding leverage for a player his size.

"He's strong," Hyde said. "His greatest things are his hands and he's so explosive. He just pushes the pocket backwards. He's got a lot of power, a lot of strength. He played last year at about 275 (pounds) and he's 290 right now. He works his butt off in the weight room and running every day."

Hyde isn't alone on El Camino's coaching staff in his praise for Thompson, who is a likely choice for the top JUCO tackle prospect in the Class of 2008.

"Our offensive line coach has been coaching approximately 30 years," Hyde stated. "He's played in the pros, played at Stanford with Bill Walsh, and he said the development in Justin between last summer and now is tremendous. Coach Featherstone has been here 22 years. He's won a lot of football games and had a lot of players go pro. He thinks Justin has got the chance to be best defensive tackle he's ever coached."

El Camino plays in the rugged Mission Conference which produced two former UT defensive tackles in Demetrin Veal and Jesse Mahelona.

"Here's a another one," Hyde said of Thompson. "Justin and Jesse are two of the same kind of player. Justin is taller. They both have that wide butt that Tennessee and LSU like. Miami watched three plays and said we'll offer him right now."

On course to graduate next spring, Thompson will have three years to play two seasons and won't be able to enroll in a four-year school until the summer of 2008. "Coach (Dan) Brooks said that didn't matter to them," Hyde reveals. "And Coach (Matt) Luke said ‘coach he can get in the gap and go.'"

Thompson was versatile enough to play defensive end as well as tackle and nose tackle in the 3-4.

"We run a 4-3 and a 3-4," Hyde explained. "If he played in a 3-4 like the Steelers do or the Pats, he could be a great nose tackle. Me personally, I think he's a better nose guard than he is a D-tackle. He gets his hands on you immediately. You can see the leverage he plays with. He's a heck of a young man. He's a great leader I'm sure he'll be one of our captains this year."

Where Thompson will be next year is a matter of conjecture, but Hyde cautions it would be wrong to assume he'll end up at USC.

"When everything started it was nothing but Pac 10," Hyde said of Thompson's interest. "His goal was to see everything S.C. has to offer. But his first offer came from Arizona and then he starting getting bigger offers and now I believe he's thinking about leaving. I really do. I just told him the top four defensive line schools in the country that send kids to the pros are Nebraska, Tennessee, Miami and LSU and all four have offered. Really all he's waiting on is USC, but if they offer that's not a guarantee he'll go there. I wouldn't be surprised if his final four aren't the four I just read off."

Thompson is planning to take one official visit later this spring but no destination has been determined.

"He's had other offers," Hyde said. "but he's got such a big dominate list... he's not going to be interested."

Of course that won't diminish the interest colleges have in Justin Thompson.

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