Thompkins a natural born leader for Railsplitters

In the back row of an ex­hausted and ex­hil­ar­ated group of foot­ball play­ers was Devon Thomp­kins.

Mo­ments earli­er, in Fri­day af­ter­noon weath­er more fit for a week­end stroll on a South Jer­sey beach, the seni­or quar­ter­back was one of many con­trib­ut­ors to Lin­coln High School’s 34-0 vic­tory over vis­it­ing Edis­on.

Head coach Ed Mc­Get­tigan lauded his troops on a job well done, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the win came against a Pub­lic League Sil­ver Di­vi­sion foe. Hold­ing a foot­ball, he told the Railsplit­ters that choos­ing a re­cip­i­ent of a game ball was far from an easy task.

“This game ball goes to a guy who ran one in and threw for an­oth­er,” he said, flip­ping the ball to Thomp­kins. “Way to go.”

Thomp­kins ap­peared as startled then as he was to the sub­sequent round of ap­plause by his team­mates. 

A shy young man who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds, Thomp­kins has nev­er sought the spot­light that comes with the ter­rit­ory of be­ing a standout per­former.

“Nev­er been about stats,” Thomp­kins said. “If my num­bers had me throw­ing two in­com­plete passes and we won, that’s all that would mat­ter. If I threw for four touch­downs and we lost, it wouldn’t mat­ter be­cause we didn’t win.”

Against Edis­on, the Railsplit­ters (2-4 over­all, 1-1 league) scored early and of­ten. They might have tal­lied more if the of­fi­cials had not en­gin­eered a run­ning clock for more than half of the fourth quarter.

While cit­ing team­mates who stood out on both sides of the ball, Thomp­kins ac­know­ledged that he en­joyed one of his best out­ings since be­ing provided the quar­ter­back reins at the con­clu­sion of last fall. 

His fi­nal line — 4-for-7 for 93 yards and one touch­down pass with nine car­ries for 42 yards and a rush­ing score — be­lied his over­all gov­ernance. Thomp­kins was calm in the pock­et, and he was ef­fi­cient and smart — tak­ing what Edis­on’s de­fense was giv­ing down the field and not turn­ing the ball over, save for one in­ter­cep­tion. 

“He stepped up and did a great job,” Mc­Get­tigan said. “He’s a steady play­er. He works hard, and that is pay­ing off.” 

Thomp­kins’ most im­press­ive throw oc­curred in the third quarter. Lin­coln was already lead­ing 22-0 be­hind a 24-yard touch­down run by Hosea Mc­Clam, a nifty 65-yard punt re­turn score by Travon Wil­li­ams, a 14-yard TD gal­lop by Thomp­kins and two-point con­ver­sion runs by LeR­on Stroth­ers and De­markus Jones.

Thomp­kins fired a per­fectly spiraled, over-the-shoulder pass down the right side that was hauled in by Ed­die Keitel.

As Keitel fin­ished the 60-yard ex­cur­sion to make it 28-0 (Lin­coln would later cap the scor­ing on a 7-yard TD run by Mc­Clam), Thomp­kins gently but firmly pumped his fist thrice as he jogged to­ward his elated team­mates on the side­line.

“That was the guy I wanted to score most,” said Thomp­kins, ob­li­vi­ous to hav­ing es­tab­lished a ca­reer-long touch­down com­ple­tion. “I was really ex­cited for him. All year long we’ve been try­ing to get him a touch­down. We’ve been get­ting yard­age but hadn’t been able to get in the end zone.”

A former wide re­ceiv­er who plays for­ward and cen­ter for Lin­coln bas­ket­ball dur­ing the winter, Thomp­kins is one of sev­er­al team cap­tains, a lead­er­ship re­spons­ib­il­ity he takes very ser­i­ously.

When he struggles on the field, he tries not to let it dampen his en­thu­si­asm around his team­mates.

“Play­ing quar­ter­back makes things go to a whole dif­fer­ent level,” Thomp­kins said. “You have to make good de­cisions. You have to stay level and not get too high or too low. There’s a lot more pres­sure to go out and make a big play.”

Thomp­kins ex­tolled the ef­forts of Railsplit­ters such as guard Cody Kettyle, line­back­ers Taylor Gaines and Jessie Ajavon and the afore­men­tioned Wil­li­ams and Jones, for their work in both ground pro­duc­tion and sec­ond­ary cov­er­age.

Lin­coln amassed 200 yards rush­ing on 27 car­ries and sur­rendered only one com­ple­tion in 10 at­tempts for 45 yards.  

“Our re­ceiv­ers were get­ting open so it opened our run game,” Thomp­kins said. “As long as you’re able to move the ball, it doesn’t mat­ter how you do it, just as long as you do it.”

Among those who were most vo­cally sup­port­ive in Thomp­kins re­ceiv­ing a game ball was Wil­li­ams. Along with the punt re­turn touch­down, Wil­li­ams in­ter­cep­ted two passes and was con­stantly break­ing up would-be com­ple­tions.

Win­ning by shutout was es­pe­cially im­port­ant to the Lin­coln de­fense.

“Last week (a 34-6 loss at Mar­tin Luth­er King), we let up too many big plays,” said Wil­li­ams, a trans­fer from Arch­bish­op Ry­an. “Today, we kept them off the score­board and let Devon and the of­fense do the rest.”

That turned out to be a re­cipe for suc­cess. ••

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