Latrell Thompkins leads physical Detroit Denby into Division 5 state semifinals

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Latrell Thompkins has starred on offense, defense and special teams for Detroit Denby.

Detroit — Latrell Thompkins has been a one-man wrecking crew while helping Detroit Denby earn its first regional championship in school history.

Now, Denby is just a win away from playing in the Division 5 state championship game at Ford Field over Thanksgiving weekend.

Denby, 10-2 and the PSL runner-up, will face unbeaten Almont in a state semifinal Saturday afternoon at Walled Lake Central.

Thompkins, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior, has been an impact player on both sides of the ball, along with a force on special teams as well.

Thompkins, a Toledo commit who ran a 4.5 40 at Michigan camp this summer, has 12 sacks from his defensive end position. He also has been a big weapon as a tight end for the first time.

He also had a 90-yard touchdown run off a kick return in the 40-18 regional final win over Dearborn Heights Robichaud.

“It was a good feeling to win a regional championship; we came together as a team and got the job done,” said Thompkins, a three-star player who also received offers from nationally ranked Cincinnati and Kentucky. “My strength is playing defense, feel I get off the edge well and can get to the quarterback.”

Thompkins showed his ability when he had 12 tackles, including two sacks, while forcing two fumbles in a 36-0 win over Detroit East English Village.

Thompkins played for Tony Blankenship in past seasons at Denby, including last year when Denby finished 9-3 and lost to Marine City in the regional title game.

When Blankenship resigned, Robert Hillery, who worked under Deon Godfrey at Detroit Delta Prep before the school closed last year, was hired as head coach.

And, Hillery brought Godfrey with him to Denby.

“... (Godfrey) now is the offensive coordinator here," Hillery said. "He’s now my right-hand man, really he’s the head coach, he’s guiding me through everything.

“We’ve done a good job of assignment football and our kids are very focused, they don’t get into trouble in the classroom. We play a physical brand of football, and one thing I know is that teams don’t want that pain. We bring a lot of physicality, and I think that’s our staple more than anything.”

Defensive coordinator Eric Enox talked about Denby’s defense which has earned seven shutouts and limited opponents to an average of 8.1 points.

“We play a good attack defense, play a five-man front which is a very physical defense and they bought in,” Enox said. “I think they got it down pat right now. You want to be up in the guys face and play physical.”

Godfrey is thrilled to have Enox on board, saying: “I’ve known Eric basically all my life, he’s very knowledgeable, breaks down the defense for the kids and simplifies it. They know where to be so it’s easier for them to apply what he’s teaching.”

Godfrey has high praise for Thompkins.

“He intercepted a lot of balls this summer in 7-on-7s this summer, caught them with his hands, so I told him I’d give him a shot at tight end,” Godfrey said. “He also ran a 4.5 at Michigan camp, so with that size and speed I put him on the kick return and he returned one for 90 yards against Robichaud for a touchdown.”

Thompkins enjoyed the chance to return a kick.

“Teams have a habit of where they don’t kick the ball to me because of my size,” Thompkins said. “I got the chance to get it and I just caught it and ran.”

Detroit Denby quarterback Brandon Grimes is in his first season as a starter.

And, while Denby is led by Thompkins, it has a strong supporting cast around him.

“We have some good running backs in LaCraig Shorter and Semaj McDonald and they are a good 1-2 punch and they can catch the ball out of the backfield as well,” Godfrey said. “Marquez Bridges, our slot/DB is real good too, runs a 4.4 and he returns punts for us. He’s special when he touches the ball, makes things happen in space.”

And, Godfrey feels good about the development of sophomore quarterback Brandon Grimes, opening up the playbook in recent weeks.

“This is my first year playing varsity ball and it’s a great experience playing with these guys,” Grimes said. “As the year has gone on, Coach has let me do more passing plays now and I’ve completed more passes. Latrell is my favorite target, whenever in doubt I throw it to him because I know he’ll come down with it.”

Denby will have to be at its best to defeat Almont, which has multiple Division I players on it, including 6-5, 220-pound tight end Jackson Malcolm and 6-2, 230-pound linebacker Jacob Hausmann.