Chris Thompson squints as he looks toward the southeast corner of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“We were all the way up in the nosebleeds over there,” Thompson said
The Florida receiver commitment was pointing to where he sat for his first Gators game.
The date was Nov. 3, 2007, and Florida hammered Vanderbilt 49–22 on homecoming. A
young quarterback named Tim Tebow accounted for more than 300 yards of offense and
five touchdowns that day. Thompson also remembers then-freshman Cam Newton on the
sidelines and a festive atmosphere at The Swamp.
Thompson’s seat was about 15 rows from the top and above the wall that reads: “HOME
OF THE FLORIDA GATORS.”
Even though it would be five more years before his verbal commitment, the
Gainesville native felt at home inside the stadium. He was born at Shands Hospital
in Gainesville on May 9, 2004.
His eyes and face brighten as he relives that first game experience, even
remembering what he ate: nachos and a hamburger.
“The atmosphere is something I’ll never forget,” Thompson said as he looked around
an empty stadium on the afternoon of Feb. 2, 2012. “It’s always live and always hype
in here and it just feel great to be a part of it.
“Coming in here always gets your blood flowing – I love it.”
Even though Thompson and his family were UF fans, it would be the only game he would
attend until he was in high school when he was invited as a recruiting prospect.
After impressing coaches during Florida’s Friday Night Lights Camp on July 27,
Thompson received a scholarship offer after meeting with Will Muschamp the following
Monday. Of course, growing up a Gators fan, he committed on the spot.
“It was like a dream come true,” said Katilia Hall, Thompson’s mother. “I was
stunned and it took me a moment to catch up with it, really about three days for me
to realize it was real.
“He’s always wanted to be a Gator. I’ve been the biggest Gator fan forever and so
throughout his childhood, it’s always been all about the Gators from me and
throughout our family. This is huge for us.”
Not quite for his entire family, though. His brother, Michael Johnson, cheers for
Florida State. Mom said that’s changing now that Chris, the youngest of four
brothers, is headed to Florida.
“With (Michael) just growing up around some of his friends that were FSU fans he
kind of switched over, but everybody is coming back (to Florida) now,” she smiles.
Not everyone was smiling when Thompson pledged to Florida, though, and this isn’t
about just some light-hearted ribbing from his ‘Noles-loving brother. Thompson had
the unique experience of losing friends after he committed, instead of gaining them.
When a player commits to a major program, there’s often a group of people who
suddenly become interested in being that person’s friend. For Thompson, he quickly
began sensing envy from a few folks he once thought were his friends.
“Some people that I thought were my friends started changing, so I had to figure out
who my real friends were,” Thompson said.
People would say how Thompson thought he was “big and bad” now that he was going to
UF or talk trash saying how he wasn’t going to “do anything” at Florida.
Haters gonna hate, as they say. When people “hate,” they’re either jealous of
something you’re doing, or insecure of something they’re doing.
Thompson understands that. The whole experience has made him stronger and has him
working harder than ever to prove the naysayers wrong. Instead of talking about the
negativity, he likes to focus on what he’s doing in a positive way to improve.
“Right now, I’ve been focusing on the ball and getting in and out of my breaks on my
routes better,” Thompson said. “My goal is to get on the field and play as a
freshman. I’ve just got to keep working hard, learn everything I can and get
stronger at everything.
“I’m just happy to have the opportunity and want to prove I deserve to be a Gator.”