Demond Thorpe clearly remembers the first time he received a letter from a college recruiter.
With several teammates gathered around him before a practice last season, coach A.J. Ofodile approached Thorpe with an envelope.
His recruitment officially began.
“It was real unexpected,” saidThorpe, a senior at Rock Bridge. “I was excited, going around, showing everybody. I was like a kid when he gets his first bicycle.”
Now, receiving recruiting letters is routine. He often hears from college coaches by phone, too.
Thorpe is down to the final games of his high school career and is doing everything he can on and off the field to ensure he can land what he covets: one of 85 full athletic scholarships that each Division I football team has to offer.
“I want this more than anything in the world,” he said.
Thorpe said he thinks he is too small to be a tight end in college. At 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, he expects to be recruited as a wide receiver, but he said that being a well-rounded player makes him more attractive to schools.
“I’ve pretty much shown so far that I can catch the ball,” he said. “I’m trying to increase my intensity on defense and blocking-wise on offense and stuff like that. Just pretty much be the all-around player instead of just an offensive wide receiver kinda guy.”
Thorpe has received letters from more than 90 colleges, including Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Northern Illinois, but it is still relatively early in the process.
Thorpe has yet to make an official visit to any of those schools. In the coming months, he will tour athletic facilities, meet coaches and players and receive three complimentary admissions to athletic events. All transportation, room and board costs are covered.
He expects to get official offers as early as February. Until then, he will have to patiently wait.
Much like his demeanor on game days, Thorpe is relaxed and calm before a test. A lot will ride on his score. His future in football is at stake. But like most passes he catches from his quarterback, he takes it in stride.
“He’s never stressed out or anything like that,” his mother, Sherry Sanders, said. “He’s really improved his studying
skills from last year. I can tell a huge difference. He’s applying at least two to three hours almost nightly on homework.”
It seems the advice from his coach finally got through.
“The main thing is the same thing I’ve been telling him forever: academics come first,” Ofodile said. “You can be the most talented athlete in the world, but if you can’t qualify, nobody can offer you a scholarship.”
With a grade point average below expected standards, Thorpe knew he had to focus in the classroom this year.
“(I have to) take care of it in school first, which I wish I would have done a long time ago,” he said. “Basically that (and) keep my head on straight.”
The NCAA requires that athletes must graduate from high school and complete 14 core courses, in English, math, science and social studies. They also must achieve a minimum 2.0 core GPA and obtain a combined score of 86 on the ACT or a 1010 combined SAT score.
Schools are waiting to see Thorpe’s first-semester grades before deciding if they will make him an offer.
“He’s got the ability academically. He’s just got to focus himself on it,” Ofodile said. “If he qualifies, he’ll end up with three or four major offers.”
Sanders was concerned about her son’s safety in sports. She never let the thought of playing football cross Thorpe’s mind until he reached eighth grade.
He stuck to basketball at Oakland Junior High School, a game that Sanders was a lot more comfortable letting him play. It was on the basketball court that Ofodile noticed his athletic ability.
“He was just really athletic and really developed as far as athletic instincts go,” Ofodile said. “So just looking at that overall package, I knew he’d have the opportunity to be a Division I player.”
In eighth grade, friends suggested he think about giving football a shot. When Ofodile approached him with the same idea, Thorpe started to believe that maybe he had a talent he had never before noticed.
He talked his mom into it, and she agreed to let him give football a try during his freshman year.
“He didn’t even know how to put a helmet on,” Sanders said. “He was pretty nervous.”
Despite jitters and a lack of experience, he excelled.
“I’m sure he never imagined that after six games he’d be the second-leading receiver on the team,” Ofodile said. “The potential was there watch him have developed from a guy that didn’t even know how to run a route to a guy that is a really polished route-runner.
“(He’s) a really good technician when he runs routes. And then with the big play ability, he does some things, makes some circus-catches sometimes that wow you, so all those things make it real fun to coach him.”
In his first year at tight end, Thorpe has 30 receptions for 510 yards and five touchdowns in seven games. As the Bruins’ go-to-guy, opposing defenses often place double coverage on him. As a result, his numbers are a bit lower than expected.
With two regular-season games left, Ofodile said he thinks Thorpe still has a lot to prove.
“He’s not anywhere near getting the recognition that his ability will warrant,” Ofodile said. “(His) numbers are a little bit off this year based on people focusing on him a lot. One of the things he has to prove as being a big time player is that he can post numbers in spite of that. I think he should definitely be very hungry to prove a lot.”
Thorpe knows a big transition is looming.
College athletes are bigger, stronger and faster, and the game is more complex than what he’s used to. But he doesn’t fear that. What he fears is something he can control.
“Going from high school where you’re one of the best on the field to somewhere else where you are a nobody basically is the only thing I’m worried about,” he said. “(But) I think I can develop and become just as good as anybody else.”
As a wide receiver in 2003, he had 35 receptions for 650 yards and five touchdowns.
Thorpe said that at the moment, he has no idea where he will end up. He said his mother favors Wisconsin.
She said that although she expects to have some input, the decision isn’t up to her.
“I don’t really have a preference,” Sanders said. “But I really do want to go look at Wisconsin. I think they’re a good school, a good passing school, and I think it would benefit his career.”
But Sanders was quick to point out that she wasn’t in a hurry to send him away. She said she would also be happy if he chose to stay in the area instead.
“One of my top choices is Mizzou, to keep him close to home,” she said. “But I want him to make that final decision; it’s his career, his enjoyment. I wouldn’t be the one that makes that decision for him.”
Thorpe knows that time is near. He said he has learned a lot since the day he received his first letter before practice.
“I’ve learned the stuff that recruiting brings to you, like responsibility,” he said. “You have to be responsible for your own actions, stuff like that. Be responsible on the weekends, on the field (and) in the class just to get this recruiting stuff. It’s a privilege to get this; it’s not put out to everybody. I realize that and I’m grateful for it.”