Kenbrell Thompkins: From Felon to Foxborough

Transformation of Kenbrell Thompkins from a no name at community college to Tom bradys right hand man

Transformation of Kenbrell Thompkins from a no name at community college to Tom bradys right hand man


Many New England Patriot fans came into the 2013 season skeptical about the wide receivers position, and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins, fresh out of Clifton, has responded to these concerns with over 300 yards receiving and four touchdowns through the first six games of the season, including a game winner last week against the New Orleans Saints to give them their first loss of the season.

But it’s not just in football that Thompkins has overcome huge odds. He has a legal record that would make your jaw drop and make you (almost) forget about Pacman Jones.

Thompkins grew up in Liberty City, Florida during the period where the notorious John Doe Gang reigned supreme and drugs and violence ruled the streets. From an early age Thompkins witnessed the violence and corruption and a lack of guidance almost took his life early when he accidentally shot himself in the arm with a handgun at age seven. By his teenage years Thompkins was dealing drugs, picking fights, and by age 19 had been arrested seven times and three times expelled from school.

Judging by his past, his arrest for cocaine possession on February 28, 2007 looked like it might have been the bullet to the head for Thompkins, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It was because of this arrest that Thompkins came into contact with Judge Dennis Murphy. Murphy saw that Thompkins was a lost and confused kid, and knew that there was no way he would ever turn it around being stuck in Liberty City. So he gave Thompkins special probation conditions that allowed him to move out of Florida to Torrance, California, where he played two seasons of football for El Camino College. As a thank you to Murphy, Thompkins sent him an autographed picture of himself in his football uniform.

In his 2009 season at El Camino, Thompkins led the team in catches (69), receiving yards (1,020) and touchdowns (9), and in his two years became the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards leading to extended interest from major schools around the country. He reportedly received offers from Florida, LSU, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas State, and Tennessee, initially deciding on Tennessee in the end. He ended up changing his mind, however, when head coach Lane Kiffin departed Tennessee for USC, where he was just recently fired. His next choice was Oklahoma, but unfortunately for Thompkins his legal history caught up to him, as the University of Oklahoma has strict policies against students with bad legal histories, despite being clean for two years.

Just when things started to look bleak with spring camp coming up, he got some help from above. His cousin, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, knowing that football teams in Cincinnati will take anybody regardless of legal history, called his former Central Michigan coach Butch Jones to get Thompkins a visit to Clifton, where he soon committed. But similar to his past, things didn’t go the way he had planned. Due to complicated circumstances from his de-commitment from Tennessee, Thompkins was told he would have to sit out the 2010 season, but would not be stripped of a year of eligibility.

Thompkins made the best of this unfortunate situation by earning a 3.9 GPA in his first quarter at UC and successfully stayed out of any legal trouble. He no longer resembled the troubled teen that Judge Murphy had given a second chance.

More bad luck came his way when a right leg injury sidelined him for the entire summer, disabling him from reaching top physical condition.

He finally played his first game at Nippert in 2011 after missing his entire junior year, catching a touchdown pass in a 44-14 win over North Carolina State. But Thompkins’ biggest game of UC was Week 3 of 2012 against the Virginia Tech Hokies. The game was nationally televised, and he did his best to make sure they remembered his name, making seven catches for 134 yards and a key 37-yard touchdown in the 27-24 win.

Thompkins graduated from UC in December 2012 with a degree in (ironically) criminal justice.

On May 3rd, 2013, the New England Patriots signed the undrafted Thompkins to a 3-year, $1.5 million contract. The signing went widely unnoticed by Pats fans, who were grieving over Wes Welker leaving for Denver, Rob Gronkowski possibly being out for the year, and the entire Aaron Hernandez saga and all its messy details, and certainly no one expected him to be a starting wide-out come Week 1. He quickly made an impression on the New England faithful, catching two TD’s in Week 3 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and putting up 127 yards and a TD against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4.

But it was Week 6 against the unbeaten New Orleans Saints that the NFL world got acquainted with Kenbrell Thompkins. With 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the Saints up 27-23, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw one up in the air, and Thompkins leaped and caught over the Saints’defender, giving the Patriots a 30-27 lead and victory. Thompkins instantly became a superstar around the league and has really set the bar high for his future as Tom Brady’s go-to guy.

Whatever the future holds for this talented young player, whether it’s the HOF or putting his degree in criminal justice to work, he can feel good about himself knowing that he has already defeated the odds, and should be an inspiration and provide hope to those struggling to make it in life.