Tina Danks, wife of Corona Santiago junior varsity football coach Dave Danks, was struggling with a jammed vending machine. It had taken her last dollar. She kept tapping the button, kept getting no response, and the look of frustration was evident.
Watching from a few yards away was Dale Thompson, a 6-foot-5, 248-pound tight end who looks very much the part. He extended his hand and inserted money out of his own pocket....
"She put her dollar in there so she deserved to have her drink," Thompson said. "I don't want anybody to not have what they deserve."
Thompson didn't know Tina Danks from Adam. But behind closed doors, she had privately questioned the amount of time her husband spent coaching football. Later that night, she told the story of Thompson's gallantry to her husband, who told the story to varsity Coach Steve Mitchell, who in turn tells it to anyone who will listen.
"Dale doesn't even know what he does," Mitchell said. "She goes to her husband and says, 'If that's the product you're putting out, you can spend as many hours as you need to practice.' "
It's a feel-good story the way Thompson is a feel-good guy. The Santiago senior is considered one of the top high school tight ends in the country.
"The colleges are always asking character questions now," Mitchell said. "They're not messing around with bad apples anymore.
"I'm going to win or lose with character. It's not talent, but character, that wins ball games. And when you get the combination, like Dale, you've got something special."
And Thompson is something special. He is a pure tight end -- not a converted lineman or a heavy-footed receiver or a basketball player trying to fill a gap in the lineup.
He is a tight end, pure and simple.
"I'd just like to have a real good season," Thompson said. "I know other people are looking at me like, 'How can he have so many scholarship offers and he only had six catches last year?' "
Colleges aren't asking that question. He has offers from eight Pacific 10 Conference schools, including UCLA and USC, along with Nebraska, Michigan and Colorado. Miami was interested enough to visit him at Santiago in May.
Thompson had only six catches last season because he broke his hand in the second game, sat out the next two and then played offensive tackle for five games. When his cast came off for the regular season finale, he returned to tight end.
"I wouldn't mind having 50 catches with 10 touchdowns, but I don't have to," said Thompson, who doesn't think he has anything to prove at this level. "I feel pretty good knowing I'm a football player and I can do a good job on the field."
Up and down, sideline to sideline, in fact.
"He handles the blocking and route running as well as anybody," Mitchell said. "Our best play for two years has been our outside zone run, and you have to have a guy who can get you that corner -- that's the key.
"What the colleges love about him are his hips. They love how he gets up in, and that he finishes. He finishes his routes, and he finishes his blocks. A kid who is going to finish his play shows the kind of work ethic that's necessary at the next level. Whether he gets the ball thrown to him or not, he never takes a play off."
Thompson is refining his skills with the help of assistant coach Mike Davis, a former tight end at Northwestern who was on two Big Ten championship teams.
Davis said Thompson could be an impact player as a freshman in college, "at the latest, his sophomore year."
And Thompson might not stop there.
"I've been lucky that three different tight ends [he has coached] have gone on, two to the [NFL -- Sheldon Jackson and Brian Roache]," Mitchell said. "They were pretty good high school players, but there's no question in my mind that Dale, right now, is a better high school player."
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How They Rate
A look at the top tight ends in the Southland
*--* Rk Player, School Ht Wt Yr Comment 1 Jasper Henry, Dorsey 6-2 260 Sr Has size, strength, quickness 2 Ray Felger, Granada 6-3 210 Jr Was summer sensation Hills catching passes 3 George Fifita, 6-4 230 Sr Has good mobility Birmingham 4 Victor Gutierrez, 6-4 230 Sr Has good blocking skills Huntington Park 5 Michael Speed, L.A. 6-3 215 Sr Recognized as powerful University blocker
*--* Rk Player, School Ht Wt Yr Comment 1 Dale Thompson, Corona 6-5 248 Sr Recruiters insist he's the Santiago best 2 Erik Lorig, Peninsula 6-4 245 Jr Has star quality 3 Lance Bordeleaux, Royal 6-5 235 Jr Another junior with lots of talent 4 Mark Lewis, Arroyo 6-3 275 Sr Committed to Oregon Grande 5 Chris Wilson, San 6-6 250 Sr Making steady progress Clemente 6 Darren Fells, Fullerton 6-7 245 Sr Has excellent hands 7 Justin Walsh, Laguna 6-6 250 Sr Keeps improving Hills 8 J.D. Larson, Ventura 6-5 200 Sr Athletic, mobile, tough 9 Julian Hawkins, Long 6-4 225 Sr Full of potential Beach Poly 10 Andrew McIntyre, St. 6-3 240 Sr Will be important target Francis 11 Devin Packard, Santa 6-6 225 Jr Can get open and catch Monica 12 Mark Kazyak, Northwood 6-4 225 Sr Possesses size, quickness 13 Ryan Rybicki, Charter 6-3 220 Sr Will surprise with Oak catching skills 13 Brett Lowe, San Luis 6-3 215 Sr Returning all-leaguer Obispo