FOXBORO, Mass. — Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld share a locker. That’s just too perfect.
There is so much unexpected success shoved into that 8-by-3-by-3 space for two players that seem like polar opposites off the field. While 95 percent of the roster has their own locker, with only their own clothes, food, playbook and equipment crammed in it, two of the star players of training camp and preseason have to bump elbows just to get dressed after a game.
Thompkins didn’t seem too upset about having to share a space with the tight end, who had the time to get his master’s degree at Nevada after being there six years due to injuries. Thompkins, who was tied to six different colleges before catching on with Cincinnati, would only agree that it’s getting crowded in the small space.
Thompkins started with the first-team offense on Friday night against the Buccaneers. He only finished with one catch for three yards on four targets, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of just how incredible his journey has been. Thompkins was arrested seven times by his 19th birthday. Since that time, he traveled from college to college, finally catching on with his cousin Antonio Brown‘s former college coach, Butch Jones, at Cincinnati.
Thompkins played well, but didn’t excel with the Bearcats. Still, he watched the NFL draft from Day 1 and expected to hear his name called.
“I could remember sitting down and actually just waiting for my name to be called,” Thompkins said. “And for it not to be called, it was actually an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. But honestly, none of that even matters right now. I’m here right now playing football right now. I got a great opportunity to play football here. I’m living in that moment.”
Thompkins has seemed generally unfazed by what’s going on around him since he first met with the media May 3. In the past, he’s used rhetoric like, “football is football” and “I’m just competing” to describe his unexpected success, connection with Tom Brady and reaction to NFL training camp.
“I’m kind of just living in the moment,” Thompkins said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 5 years old. So, just to get out there and play football and be on this level is obviously a great experience to be doing what I’m doing. But I’m just living in the moment right now, taking everything one day at a time.”
Thompkins hadn’t even gone so far to express that feeling previously — that being out on an NFL field with Brady and the Patriots is a great experience. His even-keeled approach could be just what the Patriots have needed out of a rookie wide receiver since they began failing at drafting the position when Bethel Johnson came to Foxboro.
“I try not to have that ‘wow’ moment, because if I have a ‘wow’ moment that means that I’ll be focusing on the outside — on the crowd and the fans and everything like that,” Thompkins said. “Just living in the moment and trying to get better each day, that’s pretty much all I can do.”
Thompkins would not go as far as to say not getting drafted put a chip on his shoulder, but he stressed that he will never forget sitting, watching the draft and not getting a phone call from any of the 32 NFL teams.
“It’s just definitely a moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” Thompkins said. “Pretty much just sitting there waiting for that phone call and not to get it. It’s just something that every guy just — that’s a guy’s dream. To hear their name get called and for it not to get called, that’s just something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Thompkins said he didn’t come away from the experience angry. His phrase du jour Friday night was that he’s just “living in the moment” for now.
“No anger at all. No anger at all,” Thompkins said. “Like I said, I’m not in control of the draft boards or who they draft or who they want to put on their team or anything like that. All I can control is where I end up at. I’m just trying to live in the moment and take care of what I can take care of.”
Right now, it seems like the sky is the limit for Thompkins. He’s already outshined the player who wore No. 85 in 2011, Mr. Chad
Ochocinco Johnson (though we have to admit, their body types look similar on the field). Thompkins was asked just how good he can be.
“Time will tell,” Thompkins said. “Only time will tell. Only time will tell.”
There’s still a long way to go until Week 1, but for now, it looks like Thompkins could be the Patriots’ starting “X” receiver in Buffalo on Sept. 8. No one could have predicted that when Thompkins came to town, fighting for a roster spot behind Aaron Dobson, taken in the second round, and Josh Boyce, taken in the fourth.
If anything, that’s a testament to how good Thompkins has been in training camp. The Patriots obviously thought more highly of Dobson and Boyce during the predraft process, or else Thompkins would have been the second-round pick. But the 25-year-old rookie has worked hard and proven enough that it already looks like he has that elusive “Brady trust.”