News of Chris Thompson's season-ending injury– his second in two years– hit Florida State's players hard on Monday. Thompson is like a brother to many of the guys on this team. As a senior leader who fought back from a near career-ending broken back last year, Thompson had developed into an emotional leader on the team.
To see why, one need only talk to him. He's intelligent, thoughtful and modest, the kind of player that's easy to root for.
So unsurprisingly the Seminoles are taking Thompson's loss hard.
“Considering the year he’s been having it’s been tough," said EJ Manuel. "I feel bad for him. He’s like a brother to me and, you know, his locker’s right across from mine. So him and I talk evey day, I just texted him last night to let him know that I love him.
"I wish him the best, because it’s his senior year, he’s come back from an injury last year and had a fabulous season. So to see it end like that is to tough to see. But knowing Chris, he’ll be resilient, he’ll get back up and he’ll have a great career.”
Said senior fullback Lonnie Pryor: “I sent him a long text, I was just telling him everything happens for a reason, just keep your head up and just different things like that.”
From fellow seniors, to fellow running backs, everyone has struggled with Thompson's loss. Not so much for what it will mean on the field, but because of who Chris is and what he means to this team.
“The guy can’t get a break," said redshirt junior center Bryan Stork. "I don’t know maybe God has a different plan for him or whatever, but he’s resilient he’ll come back. But if one guy goes down another guy has to step up.”
That's true from both a leadership standpoint and on the field.
Fortunately for the Seminoles, Thompson isn't going anywhere. Much like you can still find Brandon Jenkins around campus and team facilities, Thompson has been no less visible this week. On Monday evening, his leg still swollen, Thompson appeared with his teammates on crutches for team dinner.
He's been here all week.
But it's hard to lead from the sideline come gamedays, which is why the Seminoles know they'll need to lean heavily on seniors like Pryor and Manuel as well as team leaders like Stork.
That also means sophomores James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman will need to pick up Freeman's slack in the running game.
“We had a talk, I told them Sunday when we found out Chris wasn’t going to be there. I just told them you’ve got to step up, which they do," said Pryor. "You know when Chris did get hurt in the [Miami] game Freeman came in and did a phenomenal job, James did a great job and I was just saying that Chris isn’t going to come back so you all have to step up and be the lead backs.”
The silver lining is Florida State has replaced Thompson once before. Last season Freeman lead the Seminoles in rushing and was one of the few bright spots in a beleaguered 2011 FSU ground game. This season with a revamped line and two backs that have another year of experience under their belts, Florida State expects a smooth transition.
“I know I can do everything, I’ve just got to be smart," said Freeman. "[Chris] knew that playbook like the back of his hand, I just need to get on that level.”
Both Freeman and Wilder have made huge strides in learning the playbook and shoring up the nuances associated with being an every-down back at Florida State. But, there is still work to be done, Thompson was still the best at blitz pick-up, knowing assignments and making adjustments of any of the backs. While both Wilder and Freeman have improved their knowledge of the offense, that's going to be seriously tested the rest of the year.
“I talked to him," said Freeman. "I just told him that me and Wilder were going to do our best to do what you do do when you’re out there, just keep moving forward and everything is going to be alright.”
The Seminoles probably should be alright. Lonnie Pryor is still in the backfield and Freeman and Wilder are both more than capable of producing big plays.
But it's going to take a while for Florida State to get over the hurt that comes with losing a brother. After Thompson returned, almost every player on the Seminole offense would tell you their biggest goal was to protect Chris. Whether it was blocking for him at the line, down-field or picking him up after the play, nobody touched Chris.
That's why losing him the way they did, as he came down awkwardly– well past where any of his teammates could help him– hurts them so much.
“[I was] mad, so mad," said Stork, who was powerless to protect Thompson as he was injured when his foot caught in the turf following a 32-yard pass in the first half against Miami. "That’s my Chris, you don’t touch him.”
“Chris is a better person than a football player, and that’s saying a lot because he’s a great football player but his character off the field says so much about him," said Manuel. "That’s what I love about him he’s not a big guy, he’s not one way off the field and one way on the field, he’s the same person. He’s a quiet guy but at the same time he’s a great person.”
He was a pretty darn good Seminole, too.