It was a catch Deonte Thompson usually makes in his sleep. Streaking down the field with three yards of separation between him and the defender Saturday night, Tim Tebow’s on-target, in-stride pass to Thompson looked like a guaranteed touchdown.
That is until the football bounced off the hands of the redshirt sophomore from Glades Central High School in Belle Glade.
The frustration Thompson felt after dropping a potential 67-yard touchdown catch left him without emotion at first. He jogged back to the sideline with his head down, almost scared to see a reaction from the Florida coaches, especially head coach Urban Meyer.
“You should have seen the expression on my face,” Thompson said. “I was like, “What?” I thought I had it though. Better to get it out early now than against Tennessee.”
To prevent it happening once the SEC season begins, Thompson has been running that same route multiple times this week in practice.
It started Sunday night. Practice was over and most of the team was filtering back to the locker room to shower. Thompson and quarterback Tim Tebow were out on the practice field still working hard on that same play. Thompson was running through his mind of how he would do the play differently if the same situation occurred later in the season.
Despite all the hard work, it hasn’t stopped his teammates from letting Thompson hear about the drop. From right when he came off the field to earlier this week in practice, Thompson’s teammates have joked with him about what should have been.
“Everybody was joking around with me,” Thompson said. “When I first came off the field, they said, ‘Get it next time.’ Then after the game, they walked by doing this (pretending to juggle a football with his hands).”
Thompson knows it could have been worse. He was lucky that the long drop happened against Charleston Southern and not in the key moment of a big game.
The consequences then would have been much worse.
“For Charleston Southern they let me off easy,” Thompson said. “If it was for a big rival or an SEC game, they probably would have killed me.”
The Florida offense already has plenty of speed and has used it to beat opponents in the past. Now Florida is trying to take it to another level.
Florida’s new Banzai (up-tempo) offense made its debut on Saturday against Charleston Southern during a few series, and Thompson is excited to see how much it can help.
“That’s going to give teams trouble,” Thompson said. “It’s already giving us a little trouble. We’re getting in shape with it though and it’s going pretty good.”
It will help the Gators catch opposing defenses off guard, but it has also helped them get in better shape. They have to work harder to maintain their conditioning level because sprinting to the line before every play takes a lot out of them.
“You have to be in shape to run the Banzai,” Thompson said. “As soon as you get to the ball, Tim is saying “hike.” You can’t even get set. You look back, “hike,” and then you go.”
It has also caused some of the younger receivers to step up. The energy that the offense takes out of the playmakers makes there a larger need for more of them. Frankie Hammond, Omarius Hines and TJ Lawrence have all felt the sense of urgency, according to Thompson, and he expects to see more of the younger players.
“During the game last weekend, a couple guys got tired, like Coop (wide receiver Riley Cooper) and we had to have some extra guys go in,” Thompson said.
But when there’s a deep ball with Deonte Thompson’s name on it, don’t expect him to willingly go to the sideline.