It's been the topic all week, all season to some extent. Coming back from a broken back is compelling, any way you slice it, but the way Chris Thompson topped off his return on Saturday seemed lifted from a Hollywood script.
Almost a year to the day after breaking his C5 and C6 vertebrae in a 35-30 loss to Wake Forest, senior RB Chris Thompson tore the Demon Deacon defense to shreds in the first half of the Seminoles 52-0 win on Saturday, rushing for almost 200 yards and two scores in under a half.
To say Thompson has come full-circle is an almost criminal understatement.
"I was in the hospital bed [after last year's game] and so many thoughts were going through my mind, I didn’t know if I wanted to play football again, I didn’t know if I was going to [be able] to play again, I didn’t even know if I was going to be walking straight," said Thompson after the game on Saturday.
It was a visit from his head coach that snapped him out of it and put his mind to returning.
"Coach Fisher came and he came in worried about me and I’m breathing so I’m happy," joked Thompson.
"I was just like 'coach, man, get those boys right, make sure they do their jobs,' I was in the hospital Saturday I was trying to get to practice Monday. That’s how much this whole team means to me."
Thompson's rehab was anything but easy, over the past 11 months he made great strides to first get healthy, and then (perhaps more difficult) to return to elite physical form. What's so easy to forget when an athlete gets injured is that they aren't just rehabbing like an average person would, but they also have to return to the peak athletic conditioning that they were at before the injury.
Oftentimes that's where the hold-up is.
Thompson admitted he didn't even start feeling like himself until July, despite the fact he was running well before that. It was time spent over the summer, running with the freshmen sprinters like Ronald Darby and Marvin Bracy that helped him get his speed back. It was extra time spent lifting and conditioning that helped him get back to the level of conditioning necessary to carry the ball at Florida State.
By the time camp started, coaches and players alike admitted they'd never seen that kind of explosiveness from Thompson.
He just had to overcome the psychological trauma of his broken back.
It's All Mental
The mental edge was still a long ways off. In the preseason Thompson admitted he had trepidation about his return to contact. Then after the first scrimmage, Thompson said he thought things would clear up more after he got hit by someone else in a game.
This week, with Wake approaching, you could tell Thompson was still going through a lot.
"I think Lonnie probably saw it a little today," said Thompson after practice on Tuesday. "You know I wasn’t as hyper or talkative as I usually am. And that’s not me being down, that’s just me trying to be focused."
Thompson wrestled with memories of the hit all week, doubts lingered and even despite his best efforts, he admits that it took some helping hands and his faith to get his head right before the Wake game.
"As the week went on I was just trying to calm myself down, get focused," said Thompson. "I stopped and had a talk with [RB] coach [Eddie] Gran and he could tell that things were going on with me Thursday, he could just see that things were going on with me, he snatched me out of practice like ‘what’s going on?’ I told him I was going through a lot of emotions and everything, he told me just take some time off, go to the sidelines, take a knee and say a prayer.
"He was like just put everything in God’s hands and it will all go from there. When I got home I called my mom she told me the exact same thing."
Trust is Key
One of the key elements of Thompson's success Saturday, both on the field and mentally, was his newfound trust in the offense. Last year, it was lack of trust that lead to Thompson getting injured in the first place.
"It was simple, I should have taken it outside with Lonnie and Spurlock instead of cutting it up field," Thompson said earlier in the week. "Thinking back on it I should have trusted them and gone outside because they saw the same thing I saw but I decided to do something different."
All offseason, all summer and so far this season Thompson has worked on trusting his blockers to block, his coaches to make the right calls and himself to believe in what he sees.
Easier said than done.
"It came down to just being patient, just trusting my guys and trusting that they’re going to do their job. Last week I talked about how I didn’t trust those guys enough and it resulting in the injury so I just trusted them a whole lot," Thompson reiterated Saturday.
"I knew they were going to open the holes for me and they did."
That trust lead Thompson to rush for 197 yards on 9 carries, he had runs of 33, 74 and 80 yards, the last two of which scored. He was videogame good.
“I was telling you last year how big of a guy we were missing. Not only the plays he makes, but
the stability he brings – assignments, coaching, what he does ‘hey, you’ve got this, you’ve got
that.'" said Fisher on Sarturday. "He’s a brilliant guy too. That guy is rock solid and he’s a big time player.”
Afterwards, everything hit Thompson at once as he was presented with the game ball.
"It was crazy, it was emotional, when coach FIsher first started talking to me I almost burst out in tears," said Thompson. "It meant a lot to me and it meant a lot to all of my teammates, it probably meant more to them than it did to myself. I just wanted to do whatever I needed to for us to be successful, it was just a focus that I had from waking up this morning throughout the whole game."
"A lot of the guys were just looking at me like Chris can you ever stop smiling, I was like 'no I just can’t today, I’m just so happy.' It came from everything I’ve been through and just to have such a good game today that was as emotional as I’ve had in my career.
"I’m still on the high right now."