Florida's Thompson sets lofty goal: 1,000 yards in 7 games
GAINESVILLE — Florida running back Mark Thompson has a lofty goal this season. Some might even call it overly ambitious.
The junior college transfer wants to have 1,000 yards rushing through seven games. That's fairly high-reaching, especially for someone who isn't the starter, has never played a down in the Southeastern Conference and has plenty of competition for carries.
But the 6-foot-2, 242-pound bruising back from Pennsylvania expects to become the team's workhorse before the Sept. 3 season opener against UMass and doesn't plan on relinquishing the role.
"It's realistic, definitely, for sure," Thompson said. "If I'm doing the right things, coming to practice, working, coming to the games working harder, then, yeah, it's realistic."
Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett might have something to say about that.
Cronkrite and Scarlett backed up Kelvin Taylor as freshmen last season, although neither did much off the bench. Cronkrite ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns; Scarlett had 181 on the ground and a score. Scarlett got most of his yardage in a lopsided victory against rival Georgia.
"We're in the SEC. Not just one running back can take all that load, so whenever one of us gets tired or injured, we have the next man up who can do the same thing or even better," Scarlett said. "I think the downside is there's only one ball, so yeah, four people can't get to one ball. Hey, it's the best man wins."
Thompson has been counting on being Florida's guy since coach Jim McElwain started recruiting him at Dodge City (Kansas) Community College last year. Thompson ran for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore, catching McElwain's eye as much because of his stature as his stats.
McElwain said all the right things — including "some deep things" about "being a man," Thompson said — and he chose the Gators over Arizona State, Iowa, Iowa State, Louisville and Alabama.
"Florida was the right fit for me because I know Coach McElwain likes bigger running backs," Thompson said. "At the same time, I know Florida had Kelvin Taylor as the main ball carrier. I found out there was a chance he would go to the NFL and I wanted to fill his shoes or fill his spot at least."
Taylor ran 259 times for 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015. It took him 14 games to top 1,000 yards. Thompson wants to do it in half the time, all before the team's bye week.
"If I'm doing the right things, I wouldn't be surprised if I did," he said.
For Thompson to stay on the field, he will need better ball security than what he showed in the spring. He fumbled way too often in practice and even put the ball on the ground in the Orange and Blue game.
He immediately started doing extra drills to work on keeping it "high and tight to my chin," including carrying a ball to and from campus every day.
"Everywhere," he said. "Even when I'm at home playing Xbox. One hand on the controller and one hand on the ball."
Thompson hasn't fumbled in practice this fall and hopes to keep his streak intact before and during the season. Doing that surely will improve his chances of getting 1,000 yards in seven games.
"Being on the defensive side of the ball, you don't want to tackle that guy every play," cornerback Jalen Tabor said. "Like Marshawn Lynch, when you keep hitting someone over and over and over, you get tired of it. He's 6-2, 240, can move, and when he hits you, it's different. I mean, he's got 40 pounds on me and he's coming full speed. He's bigger than our 'backers.
"If he just runs the ball the way he's capable of running it, the sky's the limit. It's going to take two, three people to tackle him.