BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado safety Tedric Thompson remembers going in for the tackle. From there, his memory goes blank until later in the hospital.
Being carted off the field two seasons ago after the violent collision? No recollection. Pleading with trainers to call his mom? Doesn’t remember it. His teammates gathered around him at the hospital after the game? That was his first memory after suffering a severe concussion.
He dipped his head on the tackle — a habit his coaches helped fix. Now, the senior clearly sees everything coming at him, which explains why Thompson’s turned into an elite defensive back on a feisty defense that has the ninth-ranked Buffaloes (10-2, No. 8 CFP) headed to the league’s title game against No. 4 Washington (11-1, No. 4 CFP ) on Friday.
“After that hit, I didn’t know if I’d play again,” Thompson said. “I’m just glad I’m able to play again.”
Thompson’s been an instrumental part of Colorado’s turnaround this season. He’s one of the top safeties in the Pac-12 and a turnover machine with a league-leading seven interceptions.
To think, he almost gave up football at a young age. After his first practice while growing up in Los Angeles, he vowed to quit. Just too much work, he thought. But a family friend talked to him as they strolled around a park.
He changed his mind, returned to practice and developed into a coveted defensive back coming out of high school.
Thompson almost went to the University of Minnesota. His brother, Cedric, played for the Gophers before being drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 2015. Tedric was all set to follow his brother’s path until he went on a recruiting trip, where he was hosted by none other than his big brother. They had a heart-to-heart chat, with the message being this: Go to Minnesota because it’s what he wanted. Don’t go because his brother was there.
Boulder it was.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my brother for telling me to be my own person, not just follow in his footsteps,” Thompson said.
Thompson played some his freshman year and was off to a strong start his sophomore year, leading the team in tackles until that hit against UCLA on Oct. 25, 2014.
He was injured in overtime when he banged his head on the knee of a Bruins receiver. Thompson was strapped to a back board and taken off the field on a cart. He lifted his hands and covered his face as he exited the stadium to applause.
He remembers nothing.
Since then, he’s tried to fill in the gaps on that scary afternoon. He’s watched the play on film — remembers everything up until the actual collision. He’s been told his first thought was for his mom, wanting someone to call her and tell her he was fine. They’re extremely tight and he didn’t want her to worry.
His first concrete memory was later at the hospital and seeing fellow defensive back Chidobe Awuzie, coach Mike MacIntyre and other teammates there to check on him.
Thompson started all 13 games last season, with three interceptions in 882 snaps from scrimmage — the second-most on defense.
That was just a prelude of things to come as he’s taken his game to another level this season.
His most clutch performance may have been last weekend against Utah, when he had two interceptions, four pass breakups and a fourth-down stop to help the Buffaloes clinch the Pac-12 South. For that, he was named the league’s defensive player of the week.
Next up, a high-powered Washington offense featuring quarterback Jake Browning and speedy receiver John Ross.
“He knows how to read coverages and defenses,” Thompson said. “We need to keep studying him and keep studying their offense.”
The Colorado defensive backs are a close-knit group, even giving themselves a nickname — “The Money Gang.” Thompson isn’t sure who coined the moniker first, but finds it fitting. After all, Thompson, Awuzie, Afolabi Laguda, Ahkello Witherspoon, Isaiah Oliver and the rest of the secondary have been money for Colorado.
“It helps that we have some kind of identity that people are starting to know us by,” Thompson said. “It brought (our) bond that much closer.”
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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