Gophers football players giving back in academics

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 17, 2013 - 12:24 AM

Gophers safety Cedric Thompson and cornerback Derrick Wells can remember how nervous they were as high school seniors two years ago, waiting for their ACT scores

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Wells Academy students drop a basket of balls onto volunteers Derrick Wells, left, and Cedric Thompson at Fred Wells Tennis and Education Center.

Photo: Photos by Courtney Perry • Special to the Star Tribune,

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Gophers safety Cedric Thompson and cornerback Derrick Wells can remember how nervous they were as high school seniors two years ago, waiting for their ACT scores, knowing that test would determine their college futures.

Thompson said he didn’t have access to an ACT prep class at Calipatria (Calif.) High School. He first took the test as a sophomore and still was waiting on a Division I qualifying score two years later. Wells was in the same position as a senior at Lehigh (Fla.) High School.

Both were thrilled when the scores came back, paving their way to college. Now, both are determined to help aspiring students make the grade.

During spring semester, Thompson and Wells spent Sunday afternoons mentoring high school students at the Fred Wells Tennis & Education Center, near Fort Snelling. It was part of a service-learning project for a “Multicultural Perspectives in Sociology” class.

Thompson and Wells helped with homework, offered ACT advice and played some tennis to help bond with the students.

“You can tell they care about the well-being of these kids,” said Ali King, the Program Coordinator at Fred Wells Academy.

According to its mission statement, the academy serves to “empower youth to be successful on and off the court.” The indoor and outdoor tennis facilities might be the draw, but once inside, students have access to personalized academic support.

On a recent Sunday, Thompson and Wells spent their time with members of the St. Paul Humboldt tennis team.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate high school and go to college, so I never had anybody to push me,” Thompson said. “So that’s the coolest part for me. I’m actually giving back what I’ve learned by myself to these kids.”

Added Wells: “Just getting to know the kids and seeing where they come from and how they want to better themselves — it really touches us to help more kids in the community.”

Wells is majoring in business with a minor in youth studies. Thompson is majoring in business marketing. Both became impact players for the Gophers last fall as sophomores. Wells had 74 tackles, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Thompson had 43 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups.

Neither had ever played tennis before this semester.

“It’s not as easy as I thought it would be,” Thompson said. “It’s tough — a lot of technique.”

But Thompson and Wells certainly respect the kids who’ve found a passion for their own sport, knowing how much football has meant to them.

“If you grab a kid at a young age and put him in a sport, it can open so many windows for him,” Thompson said.

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  • Thompson asked Eh Hay Tha Taw, 13, if he needed help with homework. Thompson and Wells volunteer at the Wells Academy.

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