OWINGS MILLS - Over dinner earlier this year at a Florida restaurant, Baltimore Ravens All-Pro free safety Ed Reed began schooling Christian Thompson on the various nuances of the NFL.
The South Carolina State free safety talked football with the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, exchanging numbers and staying in touch throughout the draft process.
"He told me to stay on top of my game," Thompson told the Times on Sunday in a telephone interview. "He told somebody is always trying to take your position from you and to make sure I worked harder than everybody else. He gave me some great advice about football and life."
Little did Reed or Thompson know that they would wind up being teammates.
Now, Thompson is overjoyed to have been drafted in the fourth round by Baltimore with the 130th overall pick where he'll join Reed in the Ravens' secondary.
"It's like a dream come true," he said. "Myself and plenty of other football players idolize Ed Reed. To be a part of the same defense as him and being able to learn from him is going to be a great experience. I'm just very excited. All the hard work and dedication paid off."
The Ravens drafted Thompson because of his combination of size, speed, physical style and interchangeable ability at free safety and strong safety.
The 6-foot, 211-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 to 4.50 seconds at the NFL scouting combine, faster than any other safety.
And the Ravens needed depth at safety behind Reed and strong safety Bernard Pollard, two veterans heading into contract years, after losing reserves Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski as free agents.
"Christian is in the mold of the guys we like on defense," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "He's hard-nosed, tough and physical and smart. We like his versatility.
"We don't really consider guys box safeties or whatever. We don't want a one-dimensional safety that can only play down or play up. Christian can help us in a lot of ways."
One of those ways will be on special teams. Thompson was a gunner in college on punts, lined up on the kickoff team and occasionally returned kickoffs.
"I love playing special teams," said Thompson, who registered a 10-2 broad jump and bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times at the combine in February. "I just want to get on the field anyway possible."
An all-conference selection at South Carolina State, Thompson had 66 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery last season.
He finished his career with 140 tackles, three interceptions, eight tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries.
"I'm fast enough to play free safety in open space," Thompson said. "And I can come down and play strong safety. I'm a laidback type of dude, I try to stay positive at all times. This is my job.
"I'm going to work hard and try to fight my way onto the field."
An outside linebacker in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Thompson accepted a scholarship to Auburn over competing offers from LSU, Miami, Mississippi State and Syracuse.
Thompson transferred to South Carolina State after reportedly being dismissed from the Auburn football team for poor class attendance.
Thompson said the reason he left Auburn was primarily due to the coaching change to Gene Chizik after being recruited to the Southeastern Conference school by Tommy Tuberville.
"It was basically just because of the coaching change, there was nothing off the field with me," Thompson said. "It wasn't the right thing for me to be there. They just had a new philosophy."
Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta said the team had good information on Thompson's time at Auburn through director of college scouting Joe Hortiz and area scout Andy Weidl and had no concerns about his character.
"He ended up at South Carolina State for various reasons," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he has learned from whatever mistakes he has made. He's a humble guy, and he has a little bit of something to prove in his mind."
Ultimately, Thompson emerged as an small-school All-American as a senior.
"It was great for me," Thompson said. "I came in there with great expectations. I set high goals for myself. It was a fresh start. Everything worked out because I'm in the NFL now."