COLLINSVILLE, Miss. (WTOK) - Riley Thompson’s father knew since she was five years old that she had an affinity for soccer. From a young age she stood out from her peers and has since developed a dream of making the U.S. Women’s National soccer team roster. And to help her realize that goal, Thompson is currently enrolled in an athletic boarding school in Bradenton, Florida.
“There’s no program like it,” Thompson said. “Like there’s no school like it. You go to school for like four hours and then you play soccer for the rest of the day.”
Thompson was first offered a position at the prestigious IMG Academy after attending a soccer camp the summer after 6th grade.
“I begged my parents to go since 6th grade. So I always wanted to go, but they were the ones that were like, ‘You’re too young.’ So they finally decided in 8th grade that like it was time for me to go.”
Her father, Brentt Thompson, admits that sending her away was the most difficult decision he and his wife had to make, but knew it was the right decision for their daughter.
“She had the talent to go and they offered a program that would let her reach her potential,” he said.
An elite player in high school, Riley was a member of West Lauderdale State Championship team in 7th grade – at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season. One of her coaches at the time, Sonja Rowell, recounts Thompson even scored a goal in that title game. Rowell notes Thompson’s work ethic has set her apart and that the invitation to play at IMG could help Thompson grow as an athlete.
“It’s just wonderful that she’s had this opportunity, Rowell said. “I knew she could excel if ever had the platform to where she would get the exposure she needed because I just know the caliber of player that she is and how much work and dedication she puts into being the very best.”
Thompson plays on the Development Academy 16-17 team in the top league in the country, one that is directly affiliated with the US Women’s National Team. She is exposed to national scouts and college coaches on a regular basis. And she’s excelled: Thompson is the number one ranked goalscorer in this league.
“It’s great for her to be the number one ranked goalscorer in the nation,” said Brentt. “But what a lot of people don’t see is the time that she spent out at the soccer fields day after day after day when nobody was there.”
Thompson is surrounded by other like-minded and high achieving student-athletes. This has helped keep her from becoming complacent.
“I think definitely being surrounded by people that want to be the best has helped me become better and like try harder every practice,” she said.
When Thompson isn’t practicing or in class she’s weight-training or taking specialized classes, such as one that prepares athletes mentally – all with the goal of helping Thompson and her peers reach the next level.
“And that’s basically what the development academy is, is a stepping stone to the National Team,” Brentt said.
The National Team might be Thompson’s goal but the game has soccer has given her an identity, a sense of purpose.
“It’s my passion,” Riley noted. “It’s what I love to do the most, I guess it’s just what drives me to become a better person, it’s definitely taught me a lot of things like leadership for sure on and off the field.”