Southeast Texas’ Tony Brown, Dionte Thompson ready for college football championship
West Orange-Stark graduate Deionte Thompson watched his Alabama team win the national championship last year from the sidelines at University of Phoenix Stadium, wearing his jersey and a pair of jeans as a redshirt freshman.
The Crimson Tide pulled out a 45-40 thriller over Clemson.
Ozen graduate Tony Brown watched from the couch inside his mother’s home in Beaumont.
Brown was sent home by head coach Nick Saban prior to the national semifinal game against Michigan State after failing a drug test, a suspension that bled into the national championship game and into the 2016-17 season.
Thompson and Brown received their championship rings after Alabama’s win, but this year they’ll have a chance to earn them on the field.
“I feel like this game will help me fulfill my legacy,” said Thompson, who plays primarily on special teams but could see some playing time with the secondary unit. “Until this game, the (2014 high school) state championship was the biggest game I’ve ever played in. I’m just so lucky - not many people get to play in both.”
Both players are expected to take the field during Monday night’s national championship rematch between Alabama and Clemson at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. If Alabama wins, this will be the Crimson Tide’s fifth title since 2009.
“If you ground your feet and deal with the actions of your decisions, great things can happen to you,” said Tammy Walker-Brown, Tony Brown’s mother and head girls basketball coach at Ozen. “I think he is reaping those rewards now.”
Brown, who will start in Monday night’s game on defense, began the college football season with a four-game suspension by the NCAA.
Saban, however, kept his faith in Brown.
“Let me ask you the question,” Saban told AL.com in July. “What good does it do for a guy who got tested in December to suspend him six games next September? Is this changing behavior?”
Brown returned from his suspension at the end of October and began working his way into the starting lineup. Alabama senior safety Eddie Jackson suffered a fractured left leg against Texas A&M University that brought a sudden end to his college career and opened the door for more playing time for Brown.
In a November 51-3 win over Mississippi State, Brown made his first interception of the season and finished with four tackles. The next game, Brown had five solo tackles. During Alabama’s national semifinal win against Washington last week, Brown added five tackles and a sack, garnering praise from Saban.
“Tony Brown has stepped up very nicely for us and filled in at (the) star (position),” Saban told reporters after the win over Washington, describing a hybrid position used in the Alabama defense that’s a mix of linebacker and safety.
“He’s just excited for the time he has,” Walker-Brown said. “Hard work and perseverance have gotten him back to where he wants to be.”
Brown will graduate from Alabama in May, but with one-year of football eligibility left, will begin working toward his master’s degree, Walker-Brown said.
“Tony has become like my big brother on the field,” Thompson said. “If I ever have questions about the defense or something I need, I can always go to him.”
West Orange-Stark coach Cornel Thompson believes his former player will begin seeing more time on the field next year in his second full season with Alabama.
The two had a chance to talk in December when Deionte Thompson, no relation, visited a Mustangs’ practice with teammate Ronnie Harrison before the state semifinal game against Navarro.
“He’s going to get his chance,” Cornel Thompson said. “He understands that everyone that goes to Alabama was the best player on their high school team. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger. They’ll get two really good years out of him.”
“Coach T and Saban are a lot alike,” Deionte said. “They just want to get the best out of you.”