Chris Thompson is not himself this week.
The typically upbeat, outgoing 5-8 senior tailback is not cracking jokes at practices and bouncing around like he usually does. He’s not a ball of energy like normal.
“I think [fullback] Lonnie [Pryor] probably saw it a little today,” Thompson said. “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.”
The reason Thompson is routing all his energy into focus this week is that Wake Forest is the team that broke his back.
Last season, on a seemingly simple run, Thompson didn’t trust his blockers — he cut back inside to try and get a first down. He was rewarded with two broken vertebrae that landed him in a Winston-Salem, N.C., hospital overnight and threatened to end his football career.
“It was simple, I should have taken it outside with Lonnie and [former offensive lineman David] Spurlock instead of cutting it upfield,” Thompson said. “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.”
It cost him dearly.
Now, almost a year later, Thompson has already played in two games, already gone through a summer camp and taken lumps again from teammates and opponents alike.
He’s leapt over the psychological hurdles that come with recovering from this sort of injury. He’s even stopped watching the recording of the play.
As for his offensive line?
“I’m trusting those guys a whole lot better now,” Thompson said.
But he admits playing Wake has him thinking about that hit again.
“You know I could say that it’s here again,” Thompson said. “Just facing them after my injury, it’s a pretty emotional time for me. Not too much I can really say about it, but honestly I’ve just been thinking about it for a while.
“I’ve still got to be prepared the same way I got prepared for the previous two games, and not let my emotions get the best of me for the most part.”
Thompson teammates know the significance, too. His injury shook the team last season.
“All the guys know it’s pretty much going to be an emotional day for me,” Thompson said. “I know those guys are going to go out and play hard, just because the effect it had on all of us.”
Thompson doesn’t expect to let the emotion affect him during the game, but he’s also come to terms with the fact that he’s still not completely over the injury either.
“I don’t think it’s ever going to be behind me, because that was pretty much my first major injury that I ever had,” Thompson said. “Even after this game I’m going to still think about it at times but it’s nothing that’s going to slow me down or hinder me or anything like that.”