GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Chris Thompson’s first three years at Florida didn’t go the way he wanted, and neither did the start of his senior season.
But last Saturday against Georgia, Thompson finally found his niche on the Gators football team. He returned two kicks for 55 yards and gave the Gators an early spark in the first quarter with his 32-yard return.
That production came after he was suspended for the first two games of the year, hurting his chances of getting into the wide receiver rotation.
“It was real frustrating,” Thompson said. “I felt like I was never, ever going to get a chance again. I just had to keep fighting through it. Adversity is always going to come.”
Thompson has dealt with it throughout his UF career. He’s made just 9 receptions for 78 yards and doesn’t have a catch this season.
Thompson said the lack of playing time has been difficult, and as Gainesville native, he’s heard the transfer talk for years.
“I had a lot of people tell me that, but I’m a competitor,” said Thompson, who earned his offer by competing in Florida’s summer camps. “I grew up watching the Gators. It means a whole lot (to play for them).
“When I got suspended, it made me open my eyes. This is my last year. I’ve got to make something happen.”
And Thompson did in the Georgia game.
“I got the ball,” Thompson said, “and there was a hole, so I just hit it. On kickoff returns, you can’t just sit there and just wait. The holes open up and close real fast.”
Hitting those holes are no problem for Thompson. He ran track in high school with a 10.83 time in the 100 meters at the Florida Relays.
“I’ve got a lot of fast teammates,” Thompson said, “but I feel like I’m one of the top.”
Lamical Perine had taken over for Brandon Powell as the kick returner, but Florida’s shortage of running backs against UGA opened the door for Thompson.
“The one thing he has is speed,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “Obviously with where we were at with that position and Chris being 100 percent, what he did in that game was step up and he’ll continue to be that kickoff return guy.
“That first one that he hit we actually missed a guy up front and he redirected and didn’t cut steps. The key to great kickoff return guys is somebody who doesn’t cut steps. He hit it on time and it was great.”
It also was a turning point for Thompson, who now has worked past his suspension and carved out a role for himself. He’s looking forward to returning more kicks.
“I like having the ball in my hands,” Thompson said. “I play special teams. That’s what I do.”
Thompson even got a vote of confidence from his teammates during preparation for the Bulldogs.
“That Wednesday in practice,” McElwain said, “I actually went a couple of our guys — Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson — that are in that back end. I said, ‘What do you think, is Chris ready?’ Both of them said ‘Yeah, it’s time to put him in there.’
“That’s how much I trust our team. Those guys know and, sure enough, both of them came up to me and said, ‘Coach you made the right choice.’”