NCAA Football

Terrio Thompson’s growth and hard work pay off as he joins the Iowa football program

Terrio Thompson’s growth and hard work pay off as he joins the Iowa football program

IOWA CITY, Iowa β€” To say that Iowa Western defensive end Terrio Thompson came out of nowhere to sign a Big Ten football scholarship from Iowa is an understatement.

Thompson grew up in Dubuque, which sits on the Iowa-Wisconsin line about 80 miles northeast of Iowa City. His Dubuque Hempstead High School competes with one of the Iowa City Public Schools in one of the state’s largest conferences. Still, Thompson was about as unknown a football player as it gets, even in a sparsely populated state with two major universities and few top college prospects.

“There are coaches in Iowa — and he’s from Dubuque — and they didn’t know about him coming out,” Iowa Western coach Scott Stromeyer said. “That’s how under the radar he really was.”

There are reasons why Thompson (6-foot-3, 290 pounds) didn’t notice, and some were on him. He wasn’t completely into football early in his high school career and didn’t like playing defense because of the double teams. Thompson struggled academically and failed a spring class his sophomore year, costing him five games his junior year. On his return, he suffered a concussion and was suspended from competition, so he quit.

It was only a change of coach and a tip from friends that made him reconsider playing football in his final year at Hampstead.

“My new head coach (Jeff Horner), who was my high school counselor, he convinced some of the teammates I played with my freshman and sophomore year to convince me to come back,” Thompson said. “They did, and it ended up being the best decision of my life.”

Thompson’s final season coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant college coaches couldn’t watch him compete in person. He finished with 37 tackles, including seven for a loss. Thompson helped his team to the playoffs, but he lacked the grades, resume and postseason accolades that attract attention. But he liked sports and wanted to evaluate his student opportunities.

“My name was getting around, but my GPA was bad,” Thompson said. “Coaches could not offer me. But I knew I wanted to go play. Coach Hoerner did a really good job putting my name out there in the jucos.”

The state of Iowa has several junior college programs that regularly produce Division I talent, but none better than Iowa Western. Stromeyer and his staff have built a national powerhouse loaded with enough talent that he regularly redshirts players so they can get a year of academic work without costing them eligibility at a Division I program.

In Thompson’s case, he redshirted as a freshman but entered the program with a commitment. Division I coaches routinely watched practice and watched everyone, including those who didn’t play on Saturdays. Thompson took it to heart.

“In high school, I wasn’t the best student academically or as a person,” Thompson said. β€œI was in the hallway, skipping class, I wasn’t a role model. I came to Iowa Western knowing it was my last chance. and I must do my best. So when he redshirted me, I realized it wasn’t one of those years where, “I’m redshirting and I’m not playing with the team, so I’m just chilling.” I lowered my head. I went to the gym every day. I did my homework. I went to class. I started the year off great with a 3.5 GPA. I knew I was growing.”

Thompson put on weight, became more physical and developed into one of Iowa Western’s best players in 2021, even while redshirting. Visiting coaches began to notice him just from the way he practiced.

“He came in thinking, ‘Hey, football and school.’ And that’s what he did,” Stromeier said. β€œHe probably could have played for us last fall. I mean he was good enough. But we had so many guys and we felt the red shirt (we needed it). And sometimes being able to be three-on-three is beneficial, and that’s why we did it.

β€œAnterio was not what people would say was a Juco kid. But the stigma that sometimes happens with children in the younger grades. He never had any problems off the field. This year he was elected to the position of RA in the suites. He ended up giving it up because it affected some fall camp. So he said, “I need the money, but at the same time I can’t let it affect my football game.”

Gaining nearly 40 pounds, Thompson put together an excellent campaign for the fall of 2022. He finished with 32 tackles, including 10 for a loss and six sacks, and the Reivers won the NJCAA championship with a 31-0 victory against Hutchinson (Kandino) Community College on Dec. 14. Thompson was named a second-team All-American and ranked as the No. 4 defensive end in junior college β€” and ninth overall β€” in the 247Sports Composite.

In the early fall, Thompson collected offers from Nebraska, Kansas, North Carolina State, Washington State and Illinois. But there was only one program he wanted to play for and one assistant coach he connected with the best. It was at Iowa for defensive line coach Kelvin Bell.

“We didn’t have a real need inside at the time, so we just kept him on the back burner,” Iowa director of recruiting Tyler Barnes said. β€œBut Coach Bell has done a great job with that relationship the whole way through, and he wanted to be here more than anywhere else. He was waiting for us.

β€œKB told me that and I said, β€˜Yeah, yeah, whatever. We’re going to offer him and he’s going to attend.”

Bell traveled frequently to Iowa Western, about 250 miles west of Iowa City, and developed a relationship with Thompson. The two texted frequently, and after a bye week with the Hawkeyes in October, an offer finally came. At midnight on October 29, his 20th birthday, Thompson left for Iowa.

“I already trusted him,” Thompson said of Bell. β€œHe was one of the first to show interest. I knew I wanted to go to Iowa; I was just waiting for an opportunity.”

“Of course we offered him, and three days later he commits,” Barnes said. β€œHe’s a great kid. He weighed in at 287 pounds this weekend; he looks like he’s 250. You like it when you’re bigger than you look.’

Thompson’s path to Iowa is similar to that of Davion Nixon, who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-American in 2020. Nixon signed with Iowa in 2017, but was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA and played that fall at Iowa Western. Iowa appealed the ruling, and Nixon was allowed to register in January 2018. Nixon redshirted that year, played defensive end in 2019, and was the nation’s most dominant defensive back in 2020.

β€œThey’re both really pretty athletic for their size. I think there are some similarities,” Strohmeyer said. “They are strong. They came with different stories. Davion was a member of Division I and Terio was unheard of. So Davion was immediately in the spotlight and Onterio had to earn it all, and he did.

“The amount of offers he’s had before he’s even played for us shows how dominant he’s been in spring training.”

An almost eerie parallel occurred during Thompson’s official visit two days after winning the NJCAA title. Thompson wears No. 54 β€” the same as Nixon β€” and the photos show a striking resemblance, especially in the way the two quarterbacks filled out their uniforms.

“He also has a big personality like Davion,” Barnes said. “It’s actually scary talking to him, looking at him in his jersey, like, ‘Holy shit, is that Davion or Onterio?'”

“I talked to Coach Bell about it,” Thompson said. β€œI want to be myself; I was thinking about changing numbers. But I wore 54 during my high school days. I wore it during Juco. And it seemed that there was no point in switching.”

After taking two winter classes, Thompson will enroll at Iowa in January with an associate of arts degree and will remain in law school for three years. He has already stood on his feet as he grew up. Now it’s time to reap the rewards of his hard work.

(Photo courtesy of

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