It has been a long road for running back Ronald Thompkins. The talented back is now attempting to do something that many could not pull off.
During his time at Grayson High School in Georgia, he tore his right ACL as a junior. He worked hard to return for his senior season but then tore his left ACL in the first game of the season.
The first call his former coach Kenyatta Watson received after the game—which was televised on ESPN—was from Sean Beckton. Nebraska’s tight ends coach and area recruiter had relieving news. Beckton assured Thompkins to just focus on healing and that the Huskers would honor his scholarship. That show of faith by the Huskers paid off when Ohio State and Alabama tried late in the recruiting process to move him off his commitment.
Thompkins arrived in Lincoln the summer ahead of the 2019 season. It was expected at the time that things would need to move slowly with him. He was able to show some flashes of his ability before a setback occurred. Some more work was needed on one of his surgically repaired knees. Still, Thompkins kept working to make an impact.
Thompkins has been one of the feel-good stories for the Huskers this fall. You saw him in practice highlight videos making plays. Teammates mentioned him as someone who is having a good camp.
On Tuesday, running backs coach Ryan Held provided an update on Thompkins. He shared that Thompkins will enter the season as the backup running back to Dedrick Mills.
This news did not surprise Watson.
“I knew it was only a matter of time,” Watson told Hail Varsity. “Because he’s like the five-tool baseball player. He can do everything. He can block. I wouldn’t be shocked if it was determined that he had the best hands on the team. He can punt, he can throw. There is nothing that he can’t do.”
What Watson said was completely backed up by Held earlier in the day.
“He’s a slasher,” Held said. “He’s got the ability to make cuts and he has tremendous hands. He can really catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s one of the better guys on our football team catching the football. So he gives us a nice five-tool player that can do a lot of different things.”
There is a reason Watson has so much confidence in Thompkins. He’s seen the back be the best guy on the team since Thompkins was 10 years old. Keep in mind that Watson refers to Thompkins as Grayson’s best player on that team from a couple years ago. That team featured double-digit Power 5 players, including 5-star linebacker Owen Pappoe.
There is something special in Thompkins that goes beyond his talent. That mental toughness to keep battling started early.
“You got to realize the stuff that we went through in our youth program,” Watson said. “We had to practice in a parking lot with no lights. We practiced in full pads on the asphalt to have lights.
“The parents would line their cars up against the field and turn the lights on. It’s just always been instilled in him to work hard no matter what don’t quit. Injury is going to happen, things will happen. Work harder and keep pushing.”
Thompkins’ journey is just beginning at Nebraska. This Saturday has been a long time coming for the running back. Sure, he will have some rust to knock off when he touches the ball against Ohio State but it’s a victory that he has worked himself to this point.
If you listen to his coaches, you’ll know not to count him out during his career at Nebraska.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.