The story behind OU receiver Brenen Thompson’s act of generosity in Amarillo

The story behind OU receiver Brenen Thompson’s act of generosity in Amarillo

Lego sets and a family health scare were pieces in the chance encounter that ended with Thompson's birthday gift for a 9-year-old stranger.

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

| Jan 22, 2024, 6:00am CST

Eli Lederman

By Eli Lederman

Jan 22, 2024, 6:00am CST

NORMAN — Oklahoma wide receiver Brenen Thompson is a college sophomore. And yet, his mother Bonnie still loses her son at the store every once in a while.

Whenever Thompson disappears inside a Wal-Mart, a Target or some other superstore, there’s a good chance Bonnie will find him in whichever aisle sells Lego sets. That’s because while Thompson sprouted into a state track star and a coveted football prospect in Spearman, Texas, he developed another deep passion around the interlocking, plastic construction toys.

Thompson used to spend hours on the floor piecing together elaborate Lego sets growing up. As a kid, he often gravitated to the biggest builds with the smallest pieces and would tackle construction manuals well above his age group. Inside his Norman apartment now, the speedy pass catcher who caught two touchdowns in 2023 has several completed Lego creations.

“He put together I don’t know how many capitol buildings,” Bonnie said. “Brenen always loved Lego.” 

Thompson loves Lego. It’s part of — but not the only reason — why he was in the right place at the right time for a chance encounter and a memorable random act of kindness at a Target in Amarillo, Texas, earlier this month. 

“It was just so super sweet,” said Bonnie.

 

Perhaps you already know some of the story behind the “Sonic the Hedgehog” Lego set Thompson gifted to a nine-year-old boy on Jan. 7. It circulated widely on social media last week after the boy’s mother Tiffany Campbell took to Facebook to tell the tale.

It went something like this: 

  • Thompson, as he often will, had wandered over to the Lego sets during a shopping trip with Bonnie. That’s where he overheard Campbell and her son Barrett discussing a Sonic the Hedgehog-themed Lego set.

 

  • Barrett had grabbed the set off the shelf before realizing his remaining Christmas money wouldn’t be enough to cover it. That’s when his mom reminded him that his birthday was only a week away. Maybe Barrett would receive the Lego set as a birthday gift. Or maybe he’d get enough birthday money to come back and purchase it himself. Or maybe someone would gift him a gift card to Target — Barrett’s favorite place to shop.

 

  • As the Campbells debated the options, Thompson approached them and asked if he could buy the set for Barrett. Campbell was initially reluctant to accept the offer and turned Thompson down. After some persistence, she agreed to let Thompson buy her son the Lego set as a birthday gift to a nine-year-old stranger.

 

  • “It warmed my heart to know something so simple — Legos — was able to bring a college kid and a (nine-year-old) together,” Campbell wrote in her Facebook post.

It wasn’t until they reached the checkout line that the Campbells realized who Thompson was. 

Before his college career, the Sooners sophomore had been a two-sport standout who gained widespread attention in Texas’ North Panhandle as he rose to high school stardom. As it turned out, Tiffany and Barrett are from nearby Bushland, the same town in which Thompson ran the last two track meets of his high school career. 

“(Barrett) is a small-town little boy. Brenen’s from a small town,” Bonnie said. “The little boy told his mom when they walked out, he said, ‘I hope when I get older like that I can pay it forward like Brenen did to me.’”

The Campbells left the store heartened by Thompson’s generosity and a memorable interaction with the Sooners’ wide receiver. What they likely didn’t know is why Brenen and his mother were there in Amarillo in the first place.

Bonnie’s mother Karen has been battling a series of serious health conditions since October. On Dec. 30, 2023, Thompson’s 71-year-old grandmother experienced heart complications and was airlifted from Hansford Hospital in Spearman to Amarillo. Karen spent 14 days in the cardiac ICU including nine on a ventilator. 

Before he returned to OU for a new semester and the Sooners’ offseason program this past week, Thompson spent his winter break taking care of family in and around the hospital in Amarillo. 

“It was good to have Brenen there with me,” Bonnie said. 

Sooners assistants Jay Valai and Emmett kept in touch with the family. Brent Venables checked in, as well. On one of those afternoons, Bonnie left the hospital to run errands at Target and Thompson floated to the Lego aisle where he collided with the Campbells. 

His birthday gift to Barrett came through a moment of serendipity sparked by Thompson’s Lego curiosity and carried out with the same sort of kindness Thompson has always shown young kids back home; at Spearman, he was known to hang around to sign every last autograph after track meets and football games.

“He just has always gravitated to kids,” Bonnie said. “He connects with them. And he pays them attention.”

Thompson’s latest connection left a strong impression on the Campbells. Eight days later, his grandmother was well enough to return to Spearman. 

Karen is back at Hansford Hospital in stable condition. In the coming weeks, she’ll undergo cardiac rehab and physical therapy to regain her strength. Soon, the family hopes Karen will be able to return to her home.  

“I’ll just wipe out the first two weeks of January because it just wasn’t very good to us,” Bonnie said. “But we made it.”

The Thompsons endured a trying start to 2024. In a moment of kindness that began in the Lego aisle at Target, they found a silver lining neither the Thompsons or the Campbells will soon forget. 

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Eli Lederman reports on the University of Oklahoma for Sellout Crowd. He began his professional career covering the University of Missouri with the Columbia Missourian and later worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette before two years writing on the Sooners and Cowboys at the Tulsa World. Born and raised in Mamaroneck, New York, Lederman grew up a rabid consumer of the New York sports pages and an avid fan of the New York Mets. He entered sportswriting at 14 years old and later graduated from the University of Missouri. Away from the keyboard, he can usually be found exploring the Oklahoma City food scene or watching/playing fútbol (read: soccer). He can be reached at [email protected].

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