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New Chiefs DE BJ Thompson is working to make his small-town dreams come true

Kansas City’s fifth-round pick hails from an unfamiliar town with a familiar name.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 26 Stephen F Austin at SMU Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the Kansas City Chiefs, the biggest story of the 2023 NFL Draft was the team’s first-round selection: defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah not only played his college ball at Kansas State, but is also a Kansas City-area native.

But the Chiefs took one other defensive end in the draft, using a fifth-round pick (166th overall) to acquire BJ Thompson out of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Thompson comes from England — not the nation of the United Kingdom, but the fourth-largest town in rural Lonoke County, Arkansas. Its 2,800 residents go about their daily business about 20 miles southeast of Little Rock. It’s not the kind of place where it’s easy to become a ranked high-school prospect.

“Coming [from] where I come from — a small 2A school in the middle of England, Arkansas — I guess that would kind of be the reason why I was a two-star [recruit],” Thompson told reporters before Kansas City’s second rookie minicamp session on Sunday. “But we haven’t really ever had anybody with the rankings or what-not come from where I come from. So I was OK with that. I just wanted to put on for my town [and] show them that anything is possible — no matter where you come from. I hope that I’m accomplishing that.”

Still, Thompson managed to get on the field with the Baylor Bears, playing 10 games in his sophomore season before throwing in with the Lumberjacks in Nacogdoches in 2020. Thompson ended his five-season collegiate career with 63 tackles (35 solo) and 22.5 sacks over 40 games — along with an interception, five passes defended and five forced fumbles.

That was enough to catch the Chiefs’ attention — and defensive line coach Joe Cullen went to Texas so he could take a closer look.

“Coach Cullen came to the private workout with me [that was] a couple of days after my pro day,” revealed Thompson. “So I already kind of had a little impression on him. But I like him. I like his coaching style. He likes to get out there. We’re getting in shape while working with him — I mean, he’s gonna coach you hard. I’m proud to be one of his players.”

Thompson has now achieved the goal he set for himself as a high-school senior: becoming an NFL athlete.

“Me and my friends, we all had dreams and goals,” he recalled. “I remember when we were little, we all said we’re gonna go to the NFL [or] we’re gonna go to the NBA.

“But a little bit [down] the line, it just kind of dies off. People have other plans; their dreams kind of die. But for me, it never really did; I kinda stayed the path. I always had in the back of my head that I was gonna play professional sports — and I was blessed enough to make it happen.”

He’s well aware that making the roster as a rookie on a championship team will likely require some special-teams skills — but he’s prepared for that.

“Special teams [have] always been a big part [of the game] for me — especially coming from Baylor,” he explained. “We put a lot of emphasis on it. The other team might decide to take that play off. But if you go all-out on that play, then you have a chance to get the upper hand. And I know [that] coming to the NFL, playing special teams is a big part of making the team. So I’m all in on special teams. I can play all four [phases]. Hopefully, that keeps me around for a while.”

And while he acknowledged that he’s already noticed that things go a lot faster in the NFL, he’s already found an upside to participating in the league’s non-contact practice sessions.

“It gives me a chance to focus on using my hands — [and] focus on conditioning, getting in better shape [and my] pad level,” he observed. “Just the small things that you can’t really focus on [when we] have pads on... details about execution and technique or whatnot.”

Just the kind of thing that can help him become yet another “King of England.”

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