Wooden, a 5-11, 210-pounder, rushed for an astounding 5,900+ yards in a stellar prep career; Thomspon, a 6-5, 290-pounder who helped open the holes for Wooden, was named the Tennessee Mr. Football Lineman of the Year in 1A. Both are good citizens and outstanding students, already having qualified for admission under NCAA standards.
Yet college football coaches haven't been beating down the doors for either player. What gives? DCA coach Dennis Goodwin says he really doesn't understand why his two stars have been so under-recruited.
"Mark has those great feet, which you look for in an offensive lineman," Goodwin says. "He's strong. He's got long arms. He can get bigger. He's got a 3.3 GPA. He's got all the characteristics athletically and academically.
"Chris is without a doubt the toughest, hardest runner we've ever had at our school, and we've had some great ones. He runs with such great determination. He was kind of hampered this year, because he was coming off an off-season surgery, and it took him a while to recover.
"But in the playoffs he was completely healthy, and he had 900 rushing yards in those five playoff games. He had 286 yards in the championship game, and 200 of those were in the second half. He has all the intangibles."
Indeed... Wooden is a solid student with a 3.92 GPA, a 27 on the ACT and an 1170 on the SAT. Yet with less than a month to go until national signing day, Wooden has no Division I-A offers (though schools like Furman and Carson-Newman are showing interest). His 40-yard-dash speed of 4.6 (slow these days for college running backs?) may have scared major colleges off, Goodwin believes.
"Sometimes it's hard for schools to take chances on that, but he's got those intangible qualities that are just hard to measure. Maybe it's the old cliché, 'heart', or whatever you want to call it, but he's just a determined runner, a great competitor.
"He had over 1,700 yards rushing this year, and he missed two games. There's no doubt in our minds that he can play somewhere at the next level."
As for Thompson, the big lineman had hoped to have his decision made by now, but things are still very much up in the air. Wake Forest tendered an offer last fall but later withdrew it; and Vanderbilt, in whom he had strong interest last fall, has told him that an offer is not likely to come. Thompson acknowledged that the whole process has been trying.
"I'm just ready for all this to be over," he said recently, in between shifts at an after-school job. "People ask me about it every day. Some of the schools wanted me to go ahead and commit during the season, and I told them I wasn't going to commit until the season was over."
Thompson will be taking official visits to Tennessee Tech Jan. 14, and MTSU Jan. 21. Those two schools are his only offers at this point-- but things could still be changing. Arkansas has invited Thompson for an official visit on Jan. 28, and Thompson says he is in the process of setting up an official visit with in-state Tennessee.
"If Tennessee were to offer me, that's where I would be," he says. "I'm just kind of in limbo waiting for them right now. They told me they had one offensive lineman spot left, and they may have to move a defensive lineman who's already on scholarship over to offensive line. If they did that, they said I could get an academic scholarship because of my grades. They said I would be a preferred walk-on."
As of now, however, Thompson says he will hold out for the full ride.
"I might end up at Tennessee Tech," he says. "I'd like to stay somewhere in-state. If that doesn't work out, I could end up at MTSU."
Goodwin said Thompson's finest performance of the season may have come in the second half of the state championship game, in which DCA prevailed over Chattanooga-Boyd-Buchanan, 31-24.
"We were down at halftime, and his play was important in our comeback," Goodwin remembers. "But he was dominant all year. He played on the defensive side too, at tackle, and people would run away from him."