DeAndre Thompkins didn’t even need a moment to think about it: Who is Penn State’s fastest player?
“Me first,” he said with a wide smile Wednesday night. “I don’t care what anybody says. I’m the fastest one.
“KJ (Hamler) is up there. Tariq (Castro-Fields) and Donovan (Johnson) are two guys who run very well. But always me first, so who cares about everybody else?”
The soft-spoken Thompkins barely raised his voice above a whisper and boasted in a joking manner. But he has the skill to back that statement up.
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Among the big-board superlatives in the Lasch Building weight room, where the media last had access in the spring, Thompkins’ name was second on the list of fastest 40 times in Franklin’s tenure — right behind Saquon Barkley (4.33). Thompkins had a 4.34.
“Speed’s everywhere,” Thompkins said. “Everyone can run.”
Thompkins better than most. He’s been the forgotten man this offseason — Franklin hasn’t fielded a single Thompkins question in his five formal press conference settings this year — but his big-play ability remains a critical part of this team, even as the hype around true freshmen Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson build up.
The explosive fifth-year player broke the Nittany Lions’ nine-year punt return touchdown drought last season. And, statistically, he was the nation’s fourth-best punt returner last year with an average of 12.8 yards a return. He was a staple in the passing game, too, where he caught 28 balls for 443 yards, a number of those coming after the catch. But it’s been too easy to overlook the steady Thompkins with a changing offense filled with speedy, young wildcards like Hamler and Shorter.
Still, Thompkins told reporters after practice Wednesday night that he wasn’t looking for a brighter spotlight, or more acclaim for his speed. He was simply looking for more production.
“Have no drops all season, make plays for the team, win every game,” he said, when asked about his goals.
And if one of those rare drops does come?
“Short memory, man. ... If it’s a drop, oh well, get a touchdown the next play,” he said. “Forget about it. If you get a touchdown the next play, nobody’s going to talk about the drop.”
Thompkins isn’t one to hold a grudge or to take offense at not being mentioned as much as Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders or Juwan Johnson. He’s one of the fastest players on this team — OK, the fastest — and he has the track record of finding open space with ease, whether it’s through the air or on special teams. Just about the only time he isn’t electrifying is when he has to fair catch.
“I mean, I don’t like to fair catch,” he said with a laugh.
As the roster changes around him, Thompkins is sticking with what’s gotten him this far. He’s staying after practice — and getting the underclassmen to hang back with him — and he’s staying true to his self-proclaimed “cool and collected” speedy self.
Thompkins has never started more than eight games in a season. But he’s expected to be a full-time, every-game starter this year. And the redshirt senior with the 4.34 speed is ready for it.
“Sometimes the road doesn’t go as quick as you want it to,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, I knew I was going to get to where I needed to be.”