Terms such as "under the radar" and "sleeper" do not quite fit Tae Thibodeaux. The New Iberia (La.) Westgate defender has been on the radar of college programs and has shown his abilities at camps and on tape. However, it may be time for a few to take another look.
Thibodeaux was always seen as a little bit of a tweener. A very productive tweener, but a guy who was a little too short for defensive end and too light for defensive tackle. He was on the short side at around 6-foot, 6-foot-1, and a little on the light side. Just last spring he checked in at 250 pounds and he was only 260 pounds at LSU's camp in July.
Still he had options, and as an early enrollee candidate, which he could still be a possibility if the right opportunity presents itself, he was an intriguing prospect.
So what has changed?
Well, the big thing is he has experienced a bit of a growth spurt over the course of the 2013 season.
"I went to Nevada and I was 275 pounds and about 6-1.5 without my shoes on," Thibodeaux said. "I don't think I'm done yet because every time I went to the doctor he's like you're only 17 you still have some growing to do."
With a mother who stands 6-foot, a grandfather who checks in at 6-4, and several relatives in the 6-2 to 6-4 range the thought of Thibodeaux adding even more height to his frame is not out of the question.
Thibodeaux is also smart. Harvard offered early and he is looking into possibly studying Petroleum engineering in college. His intelligence also extends to the field where he has played all over the Westgate defense.
"We run a lot of multiple fronts on defense. We run the 4-2-5, the 3-3 stack, and Tae has played all the way around. He's played every position on the defensive line and we even stood him up a couple of times," Westgate coach Ryan Antoine said. "Tae can play every position you want him to play and he can even make the checks. He was making checks for the back end guys. He's able to do those types of things there because he's such a great student. Making the grades he makes and entrusting the things they trust in him, he can do it all."
Thibodeaux, who is receiving most of his attention at defensive tackle, also loves getting down and dirty in the trenches.
"Linemen control the game," Thibodeaux said. "The quarterback needs protection from the o-line so if we're not right there the linemen get to the linebackers and the running backs get a lot of yards. The d-line controls pretty much the whole defense. We stop the run, we get to the passer, we chase down screens. We're the heart of the defense."
Then there is his leadership ability, which shines through on and off the field.
"Tae is just an all-around leader," Coach Antoine said. "He does all the small things for us. Anytime we got into any adversity this year Tae was the guy we relied on for that leadership. He's very spiritual as well. With our FCA program and all the things we do Tae was able to lead us and guide us."
And of course, there is his production. He recorded 68 tackles, 14 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, 5 fumble recoveries, and 3 forced fumbles on his way to all-pretty much everything honors.
"Even this year with people double teaming him he had 19 TFL and 14 sacks," Coach Antoine said. "The guy beside him had 22 TFL and 16.5 sacks so people were going away from him, but we were able to have a real good defense, and Tae, all he did was make people around him better which is what we always talk about being great is when you make people around you better. He's the total player."
Currently he is receiving interest from Cal, Arizona State, and Wake Forest, and holds offers from Harvard, Louisiana-Monroe, Tulane, Nevada, and McNeese State. Wake Forest plans to stop through New Iberia to get an up-close and personal look at Thibodeaux on January 17, and talks are already in the works with the Demon Deacons for an official visit January 24.
Thibodeaux took an official visit to Nevada in December, and he plans to take unofficial visits to McNeese State and Louisiana-Monroe in January.
The options are there, and with his attitude and ability, he is driven to succeed. For now, he just waits for the right opportunity.