The man-made contraptions holding Trenton Thompson’s body together while he plays cover his skin during practice.
Velcro straps wrap around each bicep. They’re connected to braces underneath his pads that encompass either shoulder — one subluxed, the other required surgery last winter. Thompson constantly exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on his shoulders. Playing on the defensive line, the junior repeatedly extends his arms to take on blocks from 300-pound offensive linemen.
On his right leg, a brace supports Thompson’s knee. He sprained his MCL against Tennessee, an injury that has prevented him from playing in Georgia’s past two games. Both of Thompson’s wrists are covered in thick tape, too.
But Thompson keeps playing.
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Georgia will get Thompson, who has 17 tackles this season, back for its game against Florida on Saturday. With 5.5 sacks in three years, Thompson isn’t an elite pass rusher. Still, he makes a difference on Georgia’s defense, which is ranked third in the country.
“When I look to my right or left and I see him inside, I know everything’s going to have to come outside to me,” outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter said. “I just get prepared to make some plays.”
Thompson never missed a game in high school due to injury, but for much of his freshman year at Georgia, he suffered through pain in both of his ankles. He played in eight games and made 25 tackles, but Georgia chose not to use Thompson in its final three games as a result. At the time, head coach Mark Richt said Thompson had been playing through the injuries, although playing was preventing him from improving his health.
Last year, Carter said Thompson spent the whole season “dealing with stuff.” But Carter has never heard Thompson complain.
“It drives you,” safety J.R. Reed said. “If you get a little nick or bruise you know you can fight through it because Trent did it.”
Earlier this year, Thompson returned to his high school, Westover in Albany, for its spring football game. At the time, Thompson had just been cleared to do upper-body exercises after his shoulder surgery. Thompson was not enrolled at Georgia, having withdrawn from classes following a hospitalization on Feb. 23 for a “significant medical issue.” In a statement, Georgia said the incident was the result of an “adverse reaction to medications prescribed specifically for his medical condition.”
In Thompson, Westover head coach Octavia Jones didn’t see a player dejected by injury, pain or struggle. He looked at Thompson and saw a player anticipating his return to the field.
“He was looking forward to summer practice with the guys,” Jones said.
Thompson was present for the start of Georgia’s preseason practices in August. He played until he sprained his MCL — the latest injury of his Georgia career. Last week, Thompson returned to practice. Once more, he came back from an injury.
“He looks quick out there,” Kirby Smart said. “It looks like he’s got his step back.”