ATHENS – If there were any moments of doubt for Trenton Thompson, as he sat in a hospital bed under sedation, or as stories circulated about what had put the Georgia football star there, the future became clear again a short time later.
The rest of the world may not have known it. The status of Thompson, former five-star recruit and potential star defensive lineman, was still shrouded in mystery to most on the outside. He had withdrawn from classes at UGA. There had been an unspecified medical incident.
But Thompson, speaking publicly for the first time about the events of this spring, said he knew very quickly all would be okay. He credited his family, especially his mother, his teammates and UGA’s staff for getting him through it.
And, he made clear, it’s not quite over.
“How would I describe this experience?” Thompson said, repeating the question. “Ups and downs. Adversity. You’ve got to overcome it. I’ve still got to overcome it. I’m not there yet.”
To put in proper context, go back to the end of last football season: Thompson racked up three sacks in Georgia’s win over TCU, and was named MVP of the Liberty Bowl. He stood and celebrated with head coach Kirby Smart.
Not two months later, UGA police were called to a street in the middle of the night to treat Thompson, who was sitting on a curb, unresponsive. He would require hospitalization with what UGA called “a significant medical issue.”
There were no illegal drugs found in Thompson’s system. He was never in trouble with the law. He was just taken care of, and took care of himself.
“God puts you in places that you have to overcome,” Thompson says now of what he was going through. “God, what he’s been through is nothing that I’ve been through. So I’ve just got to look forward. I can’t keep looking behind. Because it’s a new season. It’s a new year for us.
“So it’s a new Trent.”
In a way, Thompson standing there during the interview Thursday night, after all that’s happened this year, was an example of what’s best about Georgia’s athletic department:
Head athletic trainer Ron Courson and wellness director Bryan Gantt for helping get Thompson through it, physically and mentally. Sports information director Claude Felton and his staff, preparing the shy Thompson for the interview session, but not interrupting it, trusting Thompson.
But there was also Thompson himself.
“He’s one of the toughest guys I know,” senior linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “He’s been through a lot in his time here. And I can never say that’s given up. But he’s a fighter and that’s what he’s going to do. I told him to keep fighting every day.”
One reason that some gave for Thompson’s state of mind was that he was upset over the departure of Tracy Rocker, the defensive line coach who had recruited him to Georgia. Rocker was terminated after signing day, and he’s sitting this season out. He was replaced by Tray Scott.
“That’s a coach’s decision that coach Rock’s not here. I’m moving on with Tray Scott,” Rocker said. “I think he’s a great coach, I think he’s got good technique for me, I think he’s got the same tools that coach Rock gave to me.”
Thompson sat out spring practice, not just because he wasn’t in classes, but because he’d had shoulder surgery. So Thompson spent practically all his time with Courson – “Mr. Ron” as he calls him – just rehabbing and get better. It also helped to be rehabbing with junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who was sitting out spring with a shoulder injury, and who is a defensive leader. Smith kept Thompson up to speed on the defensive scheme, and offered some pointers.
Last year, Thompson wasn’t as consistent as he could have been. He didn’t play well on every down, coaches felt, and he even lost his first-team spot for several games midway through the season.
That served as enough motivation, and the Liberty Bowl breakout game would have served as the lifting-off point to a great offseason. Then came everything.
“My family kept me motivated, saying it’s not over,” Thompson said.
And when he stepped back on the field this spring, even if it was just for rehab, Thompson knew his family was right. He never had any worries about not being back on the team.
“Because as long as I knew I was a part of the team,” he said. “I knew I was going to be okay.”