Oct. 22, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The play will most likely go down as the last one of Chris Thompson's collegiate career.
Trailing 10-3 to rival Miami at the end of a mistake-filled first quarter and in need of a spark, 'Noles quarterback EJ Manuel tossed a short pass to Thompson that the 5-foot-8 speedster had to jump high in the air to corral. Thompson snagged it and then did exactly what he had through seven games in 2012: he made a play.
He raced down the sideline and cut back towards the middle of the field in pursuit of extra yards. He got them -- 32 yards, to be exact -- but it came at a price. The 'Canes tackler that finally brought him down got up but Thompson didn't. He was helped off by trainers and quickly ruled out for the rest of a game that would finish 33-20 in favor of Florida State.
Saturday and Sunday, the worst was feared.
Monday afternoon, the worst was realized.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher announced at his weekly press conference that Thompson, the team's offensive star and the program's all-around good guy, was lost for the season. A year after his junior campaign was cut short five games into the season because of two broken vertebrae suffered in a loss at Wake Forest, Thompson's senior season met its abrupt end in a win at Miami.
This time, it was the knee. A torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sustained at the end of that long catch and run officially knocked out a tailback that was well on his way towards becoming the first Seminole since Warrick Dunn in 1996 to rush for at least 1,000 yards in a season.
"He's what's right about college football, I say it all the time," Fisher said. "But this game takes no prisoners. It's a very unforgiving game."
With 687 yards rushing -- including the 47 he gained against Miami before the injury -- Thompson would have just had to average 62.6 yards per carry over the course of FSU's final four regular-season games and a bowl game. If the 'Noles earned a trip to the ACC Championship Game with him, that needed average would have dipped to just 52.2 yards.
The fact that he was even in contention to end the 1,000-yards drought speaks volumes to the type of hard worker that FSU lost against Miami. After miraculously returning from the career-threatening back injury, Thompson was easily the Seminoles' most potent offensive player this season and a key ingredient in a recipe that has the team ranked No. 10 nationally in total offense.
"The guy is everything," Fisher said. "He's actually better now coming off the back injury than he's ever been. His health, he was talking before the game about how he's felt better now than he did at the beginning of the year ... he said, 'I feel great.' You never know. It's unfortunate but it happens.
"It hurts me for him. I mean it does because his family but they trust in God. That's what they said, 'God's got a plan for him.' Tremendous family. Tremendous guy."
Eight games into the season, Thompson isn't a candidate for a medical redshirt but Fisher said Monday that he will explore all options for an additional NCAA-granted year. By the end of the 2012 season, Thompson will have missed either 13 or 14 games (depending on if FSU makes the league championship) over the course of two seasons.
If Thompson ultimately can't get cleared for an extra year of eligibility, that 32-yard reception will go down as his final one in a garnet and gold uniform. In pure Thompson fashion, it fittingly gave FSU the spark it needed.
Because he made the 'Noles better. Both on the field and off.
"Chris is a better person than he is a football player," Manuel said, "and that says a lot because he's a great football player."