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A big guy with a gentle soul

Deven Thompson of the New Mexico School for the Deaf towers over Jemez players in a 2018 hoops contest. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — A first glance at Deven Thompson is not really enough to size him up.

As a matter of fact, it may take two or three glances to take in his chiseled, 6-foot, 10-inch, 240-pound frame.

Thompson, a recent graduate from the New Mexico School for the Deaf, looks every bit the stellar athlete and he lived up to that billing across three sports for the Class 1A Roadrunners.

His prowess in basketball, football, and track and field makes him the Journal North male prep athlete of the year.

On the court, Thompson averaged 25.7 points, 15.9 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. He led the school to its first district championship since 1976 and an appearance in the state tournament.

Thompson set a Class 1A record in the shot put at this year’s state Track & Field Championships. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Thompson hurled the shot put 49 feet, 5½ inches to set a 1A record, and he also finished second in the discus, after taking gold in the event last season.

And to top it off, he was an extremely difficult player for opponents to tackle on the gridiron, where the team played as an independent.

Having someone of his size was an incredible advantage, said football coach James Litchfield III.

“When I needed a first down or was near the end zone, I would tell the quarterback to throw to him,” he said.

With footwork learned on the basketball court, Thompson also was a natural in terms of creating space for his teammates.

“I have confidence in him to block or tackle,” Litchfield said. “But sometimes, he had some players shadowing him and it gave other players a chance.”

Thompson joined the NMSD football team as an eighth-grader, but really began to blossom as he got older.

On the gridiron, Deven Thompson kicks off for the Roadrunners. (Courtesy of School for the Deaf)

“He showed more maturity and took on a bigger leadership role during his senior year,” Litchfield said. “He was able to communicate and work with the other football players. All the boys looked up to him, listened (to him) and believed in him.”

While working on his own game, Thompson also tried to help those around him in practice.

“He was hit hard, but he gave other players a chance to improve their tackles and blocks to encourage them to do better,” Litchfield said. “He had good leadership and cared about his teammates.”

A big achievement for Thompson was his record in the shot put.

“It felt great, obviously,” he said. “Last year, the competition was really, really close. I was looking to break the record and it didn’t happen. I’m really glad that this year I’m able to say I accomplished what I came out to do, which was break the record.”

With that goal in mind, Litchfield, who is also the track and field coach, said Thompson doggedly attacked it.

“He worked hard and pushed himself to be his best,” the coach said. “He went to the weight room more times and tried to achieve more than before. He took his time to ponder about how he could throw further or focus on improving his techniques to throw in the right way.”

Thompson said he had confidence he would win the event, but wanted to add a kicker to the gold medal.

“I guess you could say this year I knew I was going to get first, but I was also hoping to get first and break the record,” he said. “It was something I wanted to do. It’s an accomplishment for me.”

But he said perhaps his biggest accomplishment came recently when he was awarded a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Northern New Mexico College in Española.

State’s ‘best big man’

“He’s the best big man in the state,” Eagles coach Ryan Cordova said.

He certainly was an absolute force for NMSD, even though he missed 1½ seasons, including all of his sophomore season, due to injuries.

In the seasons he was sidelined, the Roadrunners won three games each. But the team went 42-11 the past two seasons when he was healthy.

“Really, I’ve enjoyed having him on the team,” said Letty Perez, NMSD basketball coach and athletic director. “He’s a full team player. He makes every team better that he’s on. He believes that.”

But Thompson didn’t always have that confidence, Perez said.

“To see the confidence growing in that young man is amazing,” she said. “What a difference I’ve seen. And I’m just looking forward to him being successful. I told him when he was freshman, I believe you’re going to give us the district championship. And he said, ‘No, no, that’s not going to happen. Last time we had the district was 1976.’ And I told him he was going to take us to states and there you go.”

Indeed, as a senior, the Roadrunners sliced through their district undefeated and won their first-round state tournament game before falling to eventual state runner-up Fort Sumner in the quarterfinals.

For Perez, it was a thrill to see Thompson’s ample skills start to reach fruition.

“He pulls the team together,” she said. “He shows them that they can believe and he wants the rest of the team to believe in themselves, as well. And you see how the team has become bonded because of him. He gets everybody involved. He gets everybody invested. That’s only one way that I’ve seen him pull that the whole team together.”

In a previous interview, Thompson said basketball was by his favorite sport.

“I love basketball,” he said. “Not because of my size and height, but because basketball is more fun and competitive than any other sport.”

It brings out the best in him, Thompson said.

“I love playing with passion,” he said. “And that will lead me to good performances in the game, including scoring, rebounding and blocking shots.”

A gentle soul

Despite his size, Perez said Thompson has a gentle soul and is a compassionate and person.

“When he was a junior, he was really strong and he ended up knocking a guy over,” she recalled. “And Deven ended up picking him up. And I’m like, ‘No, leave him. Take the ball and score. Forget this guy.’ But that’s not who he is. He’s a sharing, unselfish person. He’s never thinking about himself. He’s always thinking about other people.”

He’s heading off to college to play for a team of players who can hear, but Thompson said he doesn’t see it as any kind of hindrance.

“I’m excited and nervous both,” he said. “But I’ve already done that with two different (club) teams and I was the only deaf person on it. I think it will be just fine. I’ve got a lot of experience doing this already.”