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Penn State’s Odd Couple: KJ May be a PIA, but Thompkins Likes Him Anyway

by on September 15, 2018 7:00 PM

Cue the Odd Couple music.

Penn State’s thrilling kick-returning, TD-pass catching duo of DeAndre Thompkins and KJ Hamler couldn’t be more different.

They’re separated by 45 months, half a continent and about a million syllables.

Yet, somehow the two combined for 147 return yards, 123 receiving yards and a touchdown (plus one called back) on just 11 touches in Penn State’s 63-10 win over Kent State in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

That’s 24.5 yards every time either of them touched the ball against KSU.

Through three games, the pair has had just 25 touches combined, as Thompkins didn’t catch a pass vs. Appalachian State or Pitt, and dropped a few.

In 2018, they are averaging 24.1 yards every time one of them has the ball, with five touchdowns between them (Hamler three, Thompkins two). Hamler has 15 touches for 371 yards (24.7-yard ave.) and Thompkins has 10 for 230 (23.5-yard average). 

It’s as easy as getting the ball to No. 1 (Hamler) or No. 3 (Thompkins) 

On Saturday, Thompkins — who entered the game as the nation’s No. 4 punt returner — returned three punts for 62 yards and had four catches for 101 more, including a 40-yard scoring toss from Trace McSorley.

Against Kent State, Hamler touched the ball just four times, returning a kickoff for 52 yards and a punt for 33, along with a jet sweep for zero yards, while grabbing a 22-yard pass. Not included was his 56-yard TD catch in the first quarter, which was called back due to a holding penalty on Penn State center Michael Menet.


Both think they can score every time either touches the ball. Both are right — they’re scoring six points on 20% of all touches. By comparison, inn 2017 scoring machine Saquon Barkley scored TDs at an 8% clip (23 on 286 touches.)

Thompkins: “You can’t expect anything less. If you expect anything less, then why are you on the field? You’re out there to make plays and score touchdowns. If you don’t think every play is a touchdown, then you’re already beat before you even start to play.

“Anybody can get in the field at any point and score a touchdown. If that’s not electrifying, I don’t know what is.” (True — through three games, 11 different Nittany Lions have scored touchdowns.)

Hamler: “Every time I touch the ball I score. That’s been true all of my life. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Even on the runs. I’m going to shake somebody. Somebody’s going to miss. Once I make that first one miss, it’s off to the races.”

Both are confident. Both are fast — they run in the 4.3’s for the 40, and rank among the top five fastest guys on the team.

But…but…well, they’re different. Admittedly so.


Thompkins will be 23 two days after Penn State plays Ohio State. Hamler turned 19 two months ago.

Thompkins is reserved. Hamler never shuts up.

Thompkins went to high school in North Carolina. Hamler fast-tracked to IMG Academy in Florida, got injured, then finished his high school career in Michigan.

At 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds, Thompkins has two inches and 15 pounds on Hamler.

Thompkins already has his degree in psychology in and is on pace for a second one in criminology. Hamler, a sophomore, is undecided — although, no shock here, he’s thinking about a career in communications. Thompkins is the one who quietly takes careful notes in class. Hamler loves to sit in the front row and provide running commentary.

No wonder when Thompkins first met KJ, he thought he was a PIA.

Hamler came to the Penn State campus in early January 2017 as an early enrollee, and Thompkins was already looking ahead to his third year with the Nittany Lions.

Thompkins: “We’re totally different — he’s way on the left and I’m way on the right. He’s high energy, talks a lot, jokes a lot. I haven’t really been that type of guy. But at the end of the day, that’s my brother. No matter what kind of personality he has or what kind of person he is, he’s my brother.

“We have our differences sometimes. He gets on my nerves. I know sometimes I don’t really talk enough to him. At the end of the day, we respect each and have the highest respect for each. We just make it work.”

Hamler: “That’s my big brother. I look up to him a lot, ever since I got here. When I first got here, he was a little quiet toward me. I really didn’t talk too much to DeAndre. But since we started laughing, cracking jokes, I’ve been learning from him as an older brother and we became way more closer. We hang out outside of football, and I’m glad we do.”

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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