As I touched on last night, Chris Thompson has had a long, harrowing recovery from two fractured vertebrae last October. If anyone understands what it's like to suffer through a bad injury, it's Thompson.
One of the upsides of that experience though, which Thompson genuinely believes made him a stronger person, is the new brand of leadership that he's able to provide for the underclassmen.
That was on display yesterday when Thompson spoke about keeping the spirits of recently injured RB Mario Pender up as he misses the season.
Pender, a freshman who enrolled early and went through spring practice was felled by a groin injury that will require season-ending surgery. It's especially difficult when you consider all that Pender sacraficed to get a jump on his freshman season. The first-year tailback will end up taking a redshirt year and will spend the rest of the season rehabbing from the sideline like Thompson was forced to do last season.
Just as he did when a back injury caused sophomore tailback Devonta Freeman to miss the spring, Thompson is stepping up to offer support to his injured teammate.
"It was in the spring, I was talking to him because I knew what had happened, he'd told me what the whole problem was," said Thompson about Pender's groin injury. "I'm glad the coaches and the trainers finally realized, just go in and do what needed to be done because you never know, maybe today or tomorrow it could get worse."
Now comes the hard part though. Coping.
"I'm just going to have to keep him up, the same way as when Devonta [Freeman] missed the spring," Thompson offered. "That's my job as a senior running back to keep freshmen up, to keep their spirits up, because I know that he's saying that's he's alright right now and I said the same when I was hurt, but when you really get alone and think about it, it's really going to hit him."
Or as Ernest Hemingway once put it: "It's awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night is another thing."
Thompson knows that because he's been through it. He's been through and now come out the other side. He learned how to be productive as an injured player taking mental reps and keeping his head in the practice even though his body was unable to hack it.
"I was able to stand back and just look at our defense, just trying to look at the linebacker's demeanor, what the safety's doing, all that kind of stuff," said Thompson. "In the run game it was just helping me with the pre-snap reads which that's something all the coaches are on us hard about, and I was able to see all of that real [well]. I think that's helping me out now, I'm seeing things a lot better than I was before."
Those are the kinds of lessons he can impart unto Pender, that he shared with Freeman this past Spring. That you can still improve even while you're injured.
You hear so much talk about NFL players learning to "become professionals," but that exists at every level. All that's referring to is an attention to detail, a regimented approach that is as mental as it is physical.
Thompson is that kind of player.
"Chris is one of THE guys on the team, he's the glue," said Jimbo Fisher. "He's not only a great player talent-wise, but he's a glue guy from a work ethic and character [standpoint], what he represents when you think of a Florida State football player, that's what you want to represent. He's going to work, whatever he needs to do, Chris does."
Including offering guidance to underclassmen as they fight back from injury. Thompson can help young Seminoles rehab and return from injury the right way, he's already lead by example.
Now it's Mario Pender's turn to listen.
"It all happened for a reason, that's how I like to think about things, it may turn out good for him," said Thompson. "I hate it happened, but it happened, so I'm going to just have to keep him up, talk to him. All of us, all of our teammates are going to have to just keep him going because he's a really good player and he will be in the future."