TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida State tailback Chris Thompson thought his playing days were over a year ago when he spent a night in a North Carolina hospital with a broken back suffered against Wake Forest.
Now, slightly less than one year later, Thompson is back at his familiar starting spot after months of vigorous rehabilitation - as fast as ever - and looking forward to the fifth-ranked Seminoles' Atlantic Coast Conference opener game Saturday against the Demon Deacons.
"It's a pretty emotional time for me," Thompson said. "It's something I can't just fully let go, having to go up against those guys again."
There were several times in recent months when the speedy senior wasn't sure if he'd play. It was a tough several months for the Seminoles' leading rusher in 2010 to not only heal, but get back in football condition and stay ahead of sophomores Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., in the starting role.
Thompson said there were days early on during his rehab that were discouraging. He felt sluggish, slow and wondered if he'd be able to play at the elite level he had performed as a sophomore.
"I didn't feel like myself, but our strength coaches kept working with me," Thompson said. "It was pretty tough for me just to even get back in shape, to get back running again with no pain."
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said he can't recall any running back returning from a similar injury - two broken vertebrae
"He's fully healthy," Fisher said Wednesday. "Probably better since he's been here."
Thompson, who rushed for 845 yards and six touchdowns in 2010, has averaged 6.3 yards so far this season with a limited role against inferior opponents. He'll see his first extended action Saturday.
"Sometimes I feel a little faster and able to move better than before," Thompson said.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said it was a scary hit Thompson suffered in last year's game.
"It's just a blessing that he wasn't hurt more seriously," Grobe said. "I'm glad he's healthy and back, but he's going to give us some problems Saturday, I'm afraid."
Thompson, who set a school record in 2010 with three touchdown runs of over 70 yards, almost didn't come back.
"Going through spring I wasn't sure and at times during the summer I still wasn't sure," he said. "My friends, a lot of people I know were like, 'are you sure you want to play again?'"
His parents knew he faced a difficult decision.
"My parents were behind me 100 percent no matter what decision I'd make," Thompson said. "Now I feel like there's no need for me to stop."
But he conceded that the injury is never too far from his thoughts.
"I'm still going to think about it at times," Thompson said. "It's nothing that's going to slow me down or hinder me."
Quarterback EJ Manuel said Thompson's return is important for the team.
"It means a lot to us for him to show that he can have the perseverance to come back from a huge injury like that and not have the fear of hurting himself again," Manuel said. "He's got that bounce he had his freshman and sophomore years. I'm excited for him."
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