Fourteen months and 20 games later, Florida running back Mark Thompson is still 582 yards shy of the goal he set for himself heading into the 2016 season.
Everyone remembers that bold (and ridiculous) prediction he made last August. The transfer from Dodge City Community College in Kansas said his plan was to have 1,000 yards rushing before the eighth game of the season.
Then everyone was quick to point out exactly where he stood after the seventh game a year ago: at 262 measly yards.
And it’s been more (or less) of the same this season. Thompson has carried the ball just 30 times for only 119 yards.
It’s been mystifying to many because Thompson seems to have the physical skills to possibly rush for 1,000 yards in seven games. He’s big (6-foot-2, 244 pounds), he’s fast, he’s powerful.
He’s flashed his immense potential occasionally — like he did with his 85-yard catch and run for a touchdown against Iowa in the Outback Bowl — but has never come close to sustaining it.
Now, for one last time, the Gators are asking Thompson to try and become the type of player everyone thinks he can be.
Because the Gators really need him right now. Last season’s leading rusher (Jordan Scarlett) remains on indefinite suspension and this season’s leading rusher (Malik Davis) is out for the remainder of the year with an injured knee.
As the No. 2 tailback now, opportunity has arrived again for Thompson, who will share the rushing load the rest of the way with starter Lamical Perine and true freshman Adarius Lemons.
Interim head coach Randy Shannon has called him out.
“We’ve got to challenge him on offense to make sure there was a reason why he was recruited to be a part of Florida, and that’s for him to be a skilled running back and a physical-type guy that can get in open space and make plays,” Shannon said.
Shannon isn’t kidding around. He met one-on-one with Thompson on Monday and told him it’s time to step up.
“He told me the expectations for myself and the expectations that are on me right now,” Thompson said. “That’s totally fine. That’s what I came here to do, to play football and it’s football-related, so let’s do it.
“Whenever my number is called, I’ll be ready to play and ready to produce and ready to just play ball.”
Thompson said last season humbled him, and that now he’s ready to go out and play as hard as he can over these final four games.
“I would say last year did motivate me and humble me,” he said. “Because I made some predictions, I said some things. I was saying a lot before even stepping on the field. Yes, it humbled me a lot.”
Thompson, of course, never came close to reaching that goal he set for himself last August. He never had a chance to reach 1,000 yards in seven games.
But he still may have a chance to rush for 1,000 yards for his career, if it’s any consolation. He needs 418 yards and has four (possibly five) games to get there.
“I’m pretty confident in everything that I do,” Thompson said. “I know what’s expected of me, but I’m going to go out there and play my game and put on film what I need to put on film.”
This time, it seems, Thompson has come up with a reasonable goal for himself.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.