Ronald Thompkins was six games into his junior season at Grayson High School in Georgia and looking like one of the best high school running backs in the country when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament.
That was in early October 2017. A major injury, to be sure, but one also that high school kids now often recover from. Thompkins did just that, but then tore his left ACL in Grayson’s season opener his senior year, just weeks after he had verbally committed to Nebraska.
The injury issues didn’t end there, either. Thompkins enrolled at NU in the summer of 2019 and made some progress during preseason camp, to the point where running backs coach Ryan Held talked of keeping the door open on his potential to earn some snaps as the season went along.
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Another setback with his left knee, though, led to another surgery in late September or early October, and Thompkins again found himself sidelined.
“Ronald, he’s been through a lot now,” Held said Thursday. “There was a point where you never knew if he was going to be able to come back. He’s really persevered, he’s really fought through some adverse times. Because he was as talented as anyone in America coming out of high school and whether he would be able to play or not, nobody knew.
“But he’s really relied on his perseverance and he’s had good days and bad days, just like anybody going through that process.”
Nothing’s official yet, of course. Thompkins, listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, has been close to returning before. He even got back on the field for just a glimpse that first week of his senior season.
Come Oct. 24, though, when Nebraska opens its season at Ohio State, it’s possible that Thompkins will be in the mix for carries in the Husker backfield, more than three years after his bout with knee injuries began.
"We were a little worried about his health,” head coach Scott Frost said during a radio interview this week. “He's had to have a knee surgery since he's been here and we didn't know how well he'd be able to hold up, but man, he's shown flashes of being really good."
Thompkins’ health and workload will clearly continue to be a focus, and there is also plenty of competition for carries. Behind senior Dedrick Mills are Thompkins and fellow redshirt freshman Rahmir Johnson, freshmen Marvin Scott III and Sevion Morrison, and a host of walk-ons who have impressed Held so far in camp.
Thompkins, though, is in the mix. And that in and of itself is quite a development for the redshirt freshman.
“I’ve been really impressed with him,” Held said. “He’s had a really good attitude and there’s a motivational aspect of it that we have had to do, talking on a day-to-day basis. He’s done a really good job mentally, because there have been times, obviously, where he wasn’t able to do things physically.
“He’s done really well, but it’s a long season. Again, we have to be smart with his reps, but I do think he’s a guy that can help our football team.”