By Blanca Izquierdo, Bailey Poer, and Quanecia Fraser—
Three former Tarleton State University players will be joining the NFL. E.J. Speed made history on April 27, as only the fifth Tarleton State University football player to be in the NFL Draft and the first Division II player to be selected in this year’s draft. Speed was selected as the 164th pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the fifth round of the draft. After the draft former defensive lineman Tyrell Thompson was signed by the Los Angeles Rams and Xavier Turner were signed by the Arizona Cardinals signed as undrafted free agents.
Thompson, who graduated with his kinesiology degree in December 2018, explained the drafting process to Texan News in a FaceTime Interview Sunday evening.
All the seniors got together and we sent our names to the NFL. From then, we met with different agents and we got to pick who our agents were,” said Thompson.
Once Thompson got his agent, he began training for combines and pro days. That included football training, testing his 40-yard-dash, vertical jump and bench press.
Speed worked out with Donald Driver, who played 14 seasons with the Green Bay Packers and Noel Scarlet, who played for the Dallas Cowboys for two seasons. These intense workouts are from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the afternoon Monday through Saturday and include speed work and weights.
Going into the draft none of the players knew what to expect.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen—whether I was going to get drafted or not, so I was sitting there watching the draft and waiting for a phone call,” said Thompson. “Literally five minutes after that, my phone rang it was the Los Angeles Rams calling.”
Thompson said the Rams told him they wanted him to be part of the team.
Speed said of his experience, ““It was amazing. Everything I worked for my whole life equaled up to that one call. I thought about everything my family and I have been through and how much that call will inspire my teammates and the city of Fort Worth. I am grateful for this opportunity and looking forward to a great career with the Indianapolis Colts,” said Speed.
Turner, who signed a three year contract with the Cardinals, said, “The draft was a very fun process,” Turner said. “I put a lot of hard work behind the scenes because I wanted to do my best.”
The experience leading up to the draft was a little different for every player. Each of them cam form different places and circumstances before they began their career at Tarleton.
Thompson was born in Tampa, Fla., but spent most of his life in Copperas Cove. He began his collegiate football career at Blinn College, where he spent less than a semester before transferring to Trinity Valley Community College. Thompson spent “all of 2016” at Trinity Valley. After his junior collegiate football career was finished, he wanted to play for a Division l school but says he didn’t have the academic requirements needed.
He ended going back home to Copperas Cove and working at a local Chick-Fil-A. One Wednesday in the spring of 2017, he was at work at Chick-Fil-A when “the Tarleton coaches walked in.”
“I was working and I looked up and I saw them, but I thought they were there to recruit the high school students because it was during the spring time,” Thompson explained.
But Thompson said his manager told him “These football coaches want to talk to you.”
Thompson said the Tarleton coaches went to Chick-Fil-A around 12 p.m. but his shift was not over until 2 pm. The coaches waited for him to get off work.
The coaches spoke to Thompson before speaking with his parents.
“That Saturday, I came up to Stephenville for a visit to Tarleton and that Monday, I was enrolled in classes for the summer,” said Thompson. “Everything happened so quick but as soon as I went on my visit to Tarleton, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.”
Thompson said to this day, he doesn’t know how the coaches knew he worked at Chick-Fil-A.
“They did their homework really well,” said Thompson.
Thompson started playing football for Tarleton in the fall of 2017. “2017 was the year of getting my body back in shape. I still played in 2017 but I wasn’t as dominant as I was this past year because I was still trying to get back into football shape,” he said.
Speed, a graduate of North Crowley High School in Fort Worth, played as a linebacker for the Texans. Speed came to Tarleton as a quarterback. After redshirting as a true freshman, Speed converted to the wide receiver position and after suffering an injury and receiving a medical red shirt the next season and was converted to linebacker.
Turner was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and graduated from Birdvill High School in North Richland Hills, Texas. He was named All-LSC First Team and tied the school record for non-passing touchdowns in a season (22).
“Tarleton gave me a great opportunity two years ago,” Turner said. “My coaches and teammates helped me to get better every day and we’ve had a great season.”
Thompson said he thinks his last season playing collegiate football in 2018, really helped him grow as a football player. The Texan football team went undefeated in their regular season during the fall of 2018.
“We had such a good team last year,” Thompson said. “These scouts noticed how good we were.”
Thompson also said that he’s grateful for getting drafted to the Rams, especially coming from a Division ll school. “People think Division ll players aren’t good because they didn’t go to a big Division l school,” he explained.
Thompson said he wasn’t sure whether he would get drafted, partly for that reason.
But he also insists that the belief that Division ll players aren’t as talented as Division l players simply isn’t true:
“In our conference with Midwestern and Commerce, there’s really good players, week in and week out,” said Thompson. “You just go out and you play hard, the NFL teams are going to find you.”
Thompson said when he gets to Los Angeles, he plans to “take it all in and just get ready to play football.” But he’ll also hold on to his memories from Tarleton.
“All my friends there, they’re going to be friends for life—football and non-football players. Everyone there is a big family. Everyone there is so friendly, you don’t find that at most universities.”
Turner will head to Phoenix, Arizona to start practicing and playing for his new coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Thompson added that he wants to tell Tarleton students to “cherish the time you have there and if you ever get the chance to go back, go back because things are definitely changing (at Tarleton) and it’s going to be great for the future.”