Big day caps Thompson's comeback

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The week began with Chris Thompson standing in front of his team and delivering a message.

It had been a year since he'd fought for a first down against Wake Forest, running headlong into a tackler and creating a collision that broke two bones in his back. The memories of that game and the long fight to get back on the field weighed heavily on the senior running back. He wanted revenge.

"I owe them," Thompson told his teammates during a meeting before practice. "They put me out last year, and I'm going to finish them off this year."

That's exactly what happened Saturday. Thompson torched the Wake Forest defense for 220 total yards, including touchdown runs of 74 and 80 yards en route to a dominant 52-0 Florida State win.

But by the time Thompson broke through the line of scrimmage, darted down the sideline, sidestepped a cornerback before waltzing into the end zone for his first touchdown of the game, that need for retribution had long since faded away.

"I let all that stress go and just played ball," Thompson said. "And it all worked out for me."

For a year, Thompson had looked forward to Saturday's game with bitter determination. A year ago, he lay in a hospital bed in Winston-Salem, N.C., unsure of his future. He didn't know if he would walk again, let alone play football. When it became clear the injury wouldn't end his career, he wondered whether strapping on pads again would be worth it.

The team departed, leaving Thompson behind in that hospital, but not before he'd delivered a promise to coach Jimbo Fisher. He would be at every practice the rest of the season. He would rehab and regain his strength. He would play again, and he would get his revenge.

The road back was long and tedious. It wasn't until July that Thompson said he felt comfortable. By the time Wake Forest arrived this week, the passion and the determination and the anger had built into an inferno.

"You could tell he was focused," fullback Lonnie Pryor said. "He was in his own little world."

The anger was overwhelming, though. It ate at Thompson. It distracted him.

By Thursday, after he'd delivered his speech to teammates, running back coach Eddie Gran could tell something was wrong. He pulled Thompson out of practice, told him to let go of the burden that had been weighing him down all week, all year.

"I told him I was going through a lot of emotions," Thompson said. "He was like, 'Take some time off, take a knee, and say a prayer.'"

When Thompson got home, he called his mother. She offered the same advice. Before Saturday's game, the sermon in chapel provided similar advice.

Just before the team ran out of the tunnel to take the field, Pryor found Thompson, put his arm around him and simply told his teammate he loved him.

That's all Thompson needed to hear.

"Ever since then, I've had a smile on my face," Thompson said. "It showed today."

Revenge was no longer Thompson's pursuit by the time the game started, but he could have never imagined the retribution he would nevertheless deliver.

On Florida State's third play of the second quarter, Thompson took a handoff from EJ Manuel and broke right. He dashed down the sideline, finding nothing but open space. His 74-yard run put Florida State ahead 21-0.

A Wake Forest punt followed, and on FSU's next offensive play, Manuel went right back to his senior tailback.

Again, Thompson broke right and down the sideline. This time, however, Wake Forest corner Kevin Johnson -- No. 9 -- was in his way.

"I automatically thought back to a high school memory I had," Thompson said. "This guy, he was No. 9, he was chasing me and I had to stop and make a little cut back in order to score. It brought back that memory, and I was like, I need to cut back. It's crazy, it all just worked out."

The second touchdown went for 80 yards, and Florida State cruised from there, winning for the 10th time in 11 games since losing to the Demon Deacons a year ago.

Between scores, Fisher sought out his running back on the sideline, much the way he'd gone to see Thompson in the hospital a year earlier.

"I just wanted to look in his eye and hug him," Fisher said.

"It was crazy, it was emotional," Thompson said. "When Coach Fisher first started talking to me, I almost burst out in tears."

Thompson finished the game with 197 yards rushing despite not touching the ball in the second half.

For a year, he had waited for revenge. On Saturday, it turned out it was the last thing on his mind.