There was a point, a dark moment sometime last year, where the typically upbeat Chris Thompson had his doubts.
"Yeah, you know that's something I tried to stay positive about for a while," said Thompson. "But at times I did think like 'maybe I shouldn't play football anymore or something like that.'"
It would have been understandable.
On Saturday October 8th, in a game at Wake Forest, Thompson cut a run back inside, put his helmet down and broke his back. Compression fractures of his T-5 and T-6 vertebrae landed Thompson in a Winston-Salem hospital for several days and threw not just his football future, but his basic mobility into jeopardy.
Fortunately (loose use of that term), the fractures didn't leave Thompson paralyzed. After returning to Tallahassee and beginning to rehab from the injury, Thompson began to make his return to the field. Whereas just a decade ago a broken back was likely the end of a career, Thompson enters 2012 with a chance to have a significant role in the Florida State rushing attack.
"It's been a journey, man," Thompson reflected. "Last year was a rough year, well, this whole year's been a rough one for me. But now I can really say I'm feeling great to be honest."
It's a remarkable tale of recovery, but the 5'8 190 lb tailback hasn't had to go it alone, he's had a support system that he's quick to acknowledge helped him along the way.
"I have my parents believing in me, praying for me," said Thompson. "I'm always in and out of church so I had faith I could be able to come back and play again."
Thompson also found strength in his teammates.
"Everytime I saw a guy he was asking, 'hows your back doing?' or 'how you feeling?' It's still like that now," said Thompson. "They all, I can say as a whole, the whole team cared a lot and always tried to keep me going."
The support from his family and teammates gave Thompson the strength to recover physically and also mentally.
Such a serious injury can take a huge toll on a player's psyche. Sometimes the psychological damage far exceeds the physical toll. You used to see it a lot when receivers would get obliterated going over the middle, before they cracked down on helmet-to-helmet shots and launching. Occasionally a bad enough collision would ruin a guy.
Injuries can leave doubt, doubt is fatal in football.
Thompson admits he's struggled with as much.
"I try to be used to feeling good," said Thompson. "Sometimes I do think [about the injury] though and that's a bad thing. But sometimes I can't really help myself from thinking about it because it happened last October. But for the most part I'm always trying to stay positive about the situation."
He's watched the tape of the injury. Many athletes never can, Thompson has. Just a few times at first, but lately as he's gotten stronger he's begun to watch it more frequently. Still, it represents the final hurdle between Thompson and being completely recovered.
"Just getting hit, that's the biggest issue. I looked back at the game against Wake Forest again last week before we started practice," said Thompson. "Just getting tackled again, that's the biggest issue that's on my mind to be honest."
As odd as it may be though, Thompson also finds strength from watching the replay of that fateful blow last October.
"I was with someone [the other day] and they were like, 'why are you looking at this?'" joked Thompson. "I was like, it happened, I've just got to remember it. That's one of those things that keeps me going, I can say I overcame that."
It's been a process to overcome it, a journey as he calls it. Thompson had to rehab from the fractures and work to regain his strength so he could even make it back in the first place. Doing that has meant overhauling almost everything about how he eats, trains and to some extent lives.
"We changed how he trained, changed everything about him," said head coach Jimbo Fisher. "To get the healing in his back we changed a lot of the things we do with him."
Thompson was ready for limited action by the spring but was hampered by a hand injury that further reduced his workload. It wasn't until this summer's conditioning program that he began to really find his old form.
"I would say end of July I went out at the end of workouts one day just running, doing the rhythm conditioning we do, I just decided to go out with some of the freshmen, the fast ones, [Ronald] Darby, [Marvin] Bracy and those guys, just to see where I stand, see if I could run a little bit."
"I was able to keep up, put it like that," Thompson joked.
Now at the start of the season, Thompson feels, and more importantly looks, like his old self.
"I feel better than my old self to be honest," said Thompson on Tuesday. "This offseason helped me out a whole lot just the way we handled everything, the way we switched up a couple things. It really helped me out a lot."
Thompson says he's in the best shape of his life and at practice his cuts look crisp and explosive again. He also says the mental reps he took last season from the sideline have helped him with his pre-snap reads and the mental side of his game.
It remains to be seen whether Thompson regains his former aggressiveness once he gets reacquainted with contact or whether he may be timid at first. But for their part his teammates are just happy to see him looking like himself again.
"It just feels good man, because honestly we didn't know if he was ever going to play again," said senior defensive tackle Everett Dawkins. "Just to see him out there with that same speed like he hasn't lost a step, he's still fast and quick, it feels good."
"It's a blessing for him."
That hasn't been lost on Thompson, who seems to have a new love of football after almost losing it for good.
"Just being able to cut and run like that, it's a great feeling and I'm just happy," said Thompson. "It's been a long time, it's been a journey for me."