The journey was not easy. But Colin Thompson reached his destination Sunday.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound tight end was out to lunch when his agent of four years, Warren Schmidt, called him and relayed the long-awaited news Thompson will compete in the NFL this season.
The Carolina Panthers re-signed Thompson to a one-year deal and added him to their active 53-man roster, the team announced Monday. The Panthers had waived him Sept. 5.
Carolina will carry three tight ends into its season-opener against the Las Vegas Raiders at 1 p.m. Sunday in Charlotte — Chris Manhertz, Ian Thomas and Thompson.
“It was an emotional call for me,” Thompson said. “We’ve (Thompson and Schmidt) been at this for awhile now. It was a great feeling to officially be on an active roster. It was an unbelievable experience. It was awesome.”
Thompson has been practicing with the team and living in North Carolina since training camp began. The 26-year-old Cape May resident officially signed the contract early Monday.
“It’s just been a grind (to get to this point),” said Thompson, who graduated from Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, Pennsylvania.
Thompson initially played college football at the University of Florida and, over the course of two seasons, broke his left and right foot and underwent multiple surgeries. He was told his career was over.
But he recovered and ended up at Temple where he played three seasons under now-Panthers first-year coach Matt Rhule.
The New York Giants then signed Thompson to their preseason roster in 2017. But after the first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he underwent an emergency appendectomy and was waived.
Thompson, who worked out for about a dozen NFL teams in recent years, was on the Chicago Bears’ practice squad until 2018.
Thompson also played with the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football and the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL. The AAF folded midseason in 2019, and the XFL, which was halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, could return in 2022.
“The opportunity to come play for Matt Rhule and this first-class organization and to make the 53 is an unbelievable feat,” said Thompson, who thanked his fiancée, Sydney, parents, Karen and Dave, and past and present coaches. “It’s a blessing.”
Connections with Lower
Thompson has been associated with the Cape May community since he was young. His mother owns Cotton Company and Lace Silhouettes Lingerie in the Washington Street Mall. His father is a local real estate agent.
Thompson, who is getting married in the area next June, is the offensive coordinator for the Lower Cape May Regional High School football team.
“Me, personally, I could not be happier for Colin,” Lower first-year coach Lance Bailey said. “I know how hard he has worked and dedicated himself to get this opportunity, and I know he will take full advantage of it. The LCMR football family could not be happier for him.”
Thompson said he will maintain his coaching position virtually this season.
“I’m all in,” said Thompson, who called the area his home. “I’m really excited to be a part of what they are doing down there and want to help out in any way that I can.”
Thompson joins a handful of Press-area players in the NFL: Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki (Southern Regional), Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Jamil Demby (Vineland), Bears defensive tackle Abdullah Anderson (Absegami), Jacksonville Jaguars running back Ryquell Armstead (Millville), Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Jack Crawford (St. Augustine), Cincinnati Bengals long snapper Clark Harris (Southern) and Giants defensive tackle Austin Johnson (St. Augustine).
“There is a ton of talent (in South Jersey),” said Thompson, who played with Armstead at Temple. “It’s fantastic, and there is a great buy-in down here. ... I love the area and love being involved in sports down here.”
Familiarity with Rhule
Along with Thompson, wide receivers Robby Anderson, Keith Kirkwood, quarterback P.J. Walker and middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead all played at Temple when Rhule was either an assistant (2006-11) or head coach (2013-16).
“It’s a unique situation,” said Thompson, who added there are about 15 staff members from Temple.
And for those not familiar with Rhule?
“It’s the same thing we are doing with our kids at Lower Cape May and getting them to buy into a new coach (Bailey) and a new culture,” said Thompson, who added that the Panthers practice social distancing, wear masks around the stadium, and each player has their own suite to watch film.
“And it’s the same thing here. You buy into the new culture.”
Thompson said the Panthers offense should have a strong season with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, wide receivers D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and Anderson and, of course, standout running back Christian McCaffrey.
“I mean he’s pretty good, right?” Thompson said about McCaffrey. “He is the hardest working person in the room, a great guy and leader. He is so focused on every detail.
“I think we have a ton of great players on the offensive side of the ball. I think our offense can do a lot of great things. … I don’t see why we couldn’t have success.“