There was a time when Shaikh Thompson envisioned himself wearing a uniform that didn’t include shoulder pads or a fancy jersey with his name on the back.
“His plan was to go into the military,” said Hilton Head Island (SC) High School football coach B.J. Payne. “He thought he was going to the Marines. He’d been in Marine programs since he was five years old.
“But then he fell in love with the weight room, and he had a phenomenal junior year.”
Indeed, major college football programs from around the country began pursuing the 6-foot-4 1/2, 230-pound defensive end-linebacker after he produced 45 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for the Seahawks in 2022. He drew scholarship offers as a result from Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Arkansas State, Elon, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, James Madison, Liberty, Miami Ohio, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Temple, Toledo, The Citadel, Troy, South Florida and West Virginia.
But it was an offer from East Carolina on May 13 that eventually led Thompson to become a Pirate. He gave ECU a verbal commitment on October 13 to become the 20th member of the Pirates’ football Recruiting Class of 2024.
Thompson, who is originally from the Bronx, NY, moved to Hilton Head in the fifth grade. He began his football career that year but lacked knowledge of the sport. He eventually became a receiver in the eighth grade before moving to the high school where a dramatic position change occurred.
“His freshman year, and even his sophomore year, he played right tackle on offense and some defensive end,” Payne said. “He didn’t play that much his sophomore year, maybe 20 snaps. But that transition from sophomore to junior year just became huge the way he developed his body and changed it.
“It was even evident in the summer after his sophomore season. He wasn’t even a starter for us when he got his first offer from Toledo at the Ohio State camp just because of how athletic he was.”
It all came together for Thompson as a junior when he became one of the top defensive linemen in South Carolina’s AAAA Region 7. He accumulated 45 total tackles, made 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in just nine games. The effort was highlighted by a 12-tackle, six-tackle for loss outing against Claxton.
Although the Seahawks struggled in a 3-7 finish this season, Thompson remained a bright spot. He racked up 71 tackles, had 29 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. The performance has earned Thompson an invite to play for South Carolina in the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas all-star game in December.
“I’ve been blessed to coach five guys who went on to play in the NFL,” Payne said. “We have guys every year going to those P5s. But Shai has the highest upside of any guy I’ve ever coached because he’s still learning how to use his body and is still working on how to use his hands. He’s very, very dynamic. He’s a strong kid. He’s going to be great.”
Thompson’s athleticism and strength were on display in another sport last February. Competing in wrestling for the first time, Thompson advanced all the way to the state 4A quarterfinals in the heavyweight class before losing and eventually placed fourth in the division.
East Carolina began its courtship of Thompson last spring, led by defensive tackles coach Roy Tesh. Tesh eventually gave way to defensive ends/outside linebackers coach Tim Daoust, who already had a long-standing relationship with Payne.
“I’ve known coach Daoust since he was at Western Michigan (2006-2009) and I was (coaching) in Ohio,” Payne said. “They built a great relationship with Shai. I personally think he really loved the coaches and everything about East Carolina. I thought throughout the season he was a hard Coastal (Carolina) lean. But I told a friend of mine on the Coastal staff that it came down to recruiting. ‘Hey, I just think they (ECU) out-recruited you guys.’ ”
East Carolina has recruited Thompson as an outside linebacker, but he could eventually play with his hand on the ground, according to Payne.
“It all depends on where he grows, putting weight on and everything,” Payne said. “A year or two from now he could be a 245-pound kid. But right now, the plan is to start him out at outside linebacker.”
Payne said Thompson is on track to graduate from Hilton Head Island in December and he plans to enroll at East Carolina in January.