Oklahoma safety completes long road back

Thursday, August 29th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ On Friday night, Michael Thompson will complete a long, tough recovery from a harrowing auto accident.

Once a starting cornerback and now a backup free safety for No. 1 Oklahoma, Thompson figures to get plenty of playing time when the Sooners open their season at Tulsa.

``The main goal I've set is not to come back and be a mascot. I don't want to do that,'' he said. ``I don't want to motivate somebody from the sideline. I want to be back out there in the mix of it, crunch time, the fourth quarter. I want to be back doing the same thing I was doing before.''

He might not do that again. The accident that shattered his right ankle and forced him to miss last season also robbed him of some of the quickness he had as a member of Oklahoma's 2000 national championship team.

But his coaches, who remember how Thompson looked in the hospital after the May 2001 accident, are thrilled.

``To see him where he was, I couldn't care less if he played or not,'' coach Bob Stoops said. ``I wanted him to be able to live and be with his family and enjoy life.''

Sitting in a leather chair in the football complex, Thompson is smiling and engaging as he speaks about his comeback. After the accident, it was rumored he was depressed or even suicidal.

The police report said Thompson's 1994 pickup was traveling 70 mph, 20 mph over the speed limit, when it left a Norman roadway and smashed into a tree. There was no indication he hit the brakes or tried to steer away from the tree.

Thompson, who doesn't remember the crash, points out that he had fallen asleep at the wheel twice previously.

``If you're asleep, how can you hit the brakes?'' he asked.

Talk that he was depressed, he said, makes no sense.

``It was about to be summertime. I had no stress,'' he said. ``Finals were almost over. We were coming off a national championship.''

In addition to the shattered ankle, Thompson had a broken thigh, broken jaw, a pelvic injury that caused internal bleeding, a cut to his right thigh that damaged a hamstring, and deep cuts to his knees that somehow did no ligament or cartilage damage. He underwent eight hours of surgery and countless hours of rehabilitation.

Thompson started out in a wheelchair, then moved on to a walker and crutches and, finally, to nothing at all.

He said there were many days when he didn't want to rehab, when he thought about walking away from football and moving on.

``Then I was like, 'I can't do that, because that's not me, that's not my teammates,' '' he said. ``The family we've built up here, that's not how we do things. I said, 'I've got to get back out there, I've got to finish up my last two years.''

He credits his teammates, coaches, family and friends for helping push him to recovery.

``It was just amazing to watch him the whole time go through his phases and slowly build himself back up,'' said quarterback Jason White, Thompson's roommate. ``Now he's the same size he used to be and runs just as good as he used to.''

Opening the season in Tulsa is perfect because it's just up the road from Bristow, where Thompson was a star in high school. Nearly 20 months removed from his last game, Thompson expects to feel like a freshman again.

``You get nervous anyway, but I'm pretty sure I'll be real sick to my stomach when I get out there _ just nervous, jittery,'' he said. ``I'm sure I'll have a few busts, but I'll have those and they'll get me started.