It runs in the family, apparently.
Not the issues Patriots rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins had in his earlier youth, but the football skill.
Thompkins is the cousin of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, and the older brother of Kendal Thompkins, a wide receiver for the Miami Hurricanes from 2009-12 (he was a true freshman in 2008 but received a medical redshirt for the year). Compared to the two, Kenbrell was the odd stud out. The biggest of the three - 6-foot-1, 195 pounds - he was a talented athlete, but multiple run-ins with the law and poor grades held him back from competition.
In September of 2007, he was arrested for cocaine possession with intent to sell, the last of seven arrests Kenbrell had between the ages of 15-18.
Florida Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy saw over Thompkins, and chose the path perhaps less traveled. Instead of throwing him in jail, Kenbrell received two years probation and was placed in a military-style boot camp, which included jail time, according to Shira Springer of the Boston Globe.
“The coke sale case could have been the nail in the coffin, but it turned out to be the kick in the pants that he needed,” Murphy told Springer in September. “I’m a firm believer in giving youth a chance to try and turn it around.”
Kenbrell used it as motivation, along with the incentive of having seen Kendal get a scholarship to Miami. He didn't start playing football until he was 19, at El Camino College in Torrence, Ca.
There, he became a JUCO All-America, and wound up earning a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. That changed to the University of Cincinnati when former Volunteers coach Lane Kiffin accepted the head coaching position at USC.
Cincinnati was coached by Butch Jones, Brown's coach at Central Michigan prior to Brown's selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. Thompkins played two seasons for the Bearkats, and went undrafted this past April. He signed as a longshot with the New England Patriots.
Considering Thompkins has barely played organized football, and never for more than two years with the same team, the fact he's even on the field speaks both to his natural ability as well as the bleak outlook for depth among the Patriots' roster.
Perhaps Thompkins wouldn't be there, had the Steelers not matched an offer made to WR Emmanuel Sanders in restricted free agency in March.
Thompkins was the recipient of the touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Tom Brady at the end of regulation that knocked off the stunned New Orleans Saints. Former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis made the critical mistake of throwing WR Aaron Dobson out of bounds after a six-yard completion, stopping the clock and eventually leading to Brady's 17-yard touchdown pass to Thompkins.
In the style of pointing out other loose connections to the Steelers, the win gave Patriots head coach Bill Belichick his 210th career win as a coach, passing Steelers coach Chuck Noll on the all-time list.
Thompkins, an even longer shot to make the roster - let alone have NFL success - than his cousin, has four touchdown receptions to Brown's two this year. As the Steelers prepare to take on the Patriots in Week 9, the battle for family bragging rights may be the main story after the game.
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