Sporting a Davidson College T-shirt, Nick Tompkins collects himself during a workout on July 30 at First Baptist Academy. GREGG HARDY/CSI
Sometime between 7:15 and 7:30 on a late July morning, First Baptist Academy football players glanced at Nick Tompkins working out as they passed through FBA’s weight room en route to their second practice of the season.
Occasionally, Tompkins glanced back at the long line of players marching out to the football field. His time as an FBA football player — five years, spanning seventh to 11th grade — ended a year ago when he chose not to play his senior season with a college track and field scholarship in the offing.
Still, it must be inspiring on some level for the Lions to see one of their own spending his early morning hours preparing for life as a Division I athlete.
Last fall, Tompkins signed his national letter of intent to join Davidson College’s track and field program. These past few months, he’s embarked on a solo workout regimen prescribed by the Davidson coaching staff. It involves roughly 90 minutes in the weight room and on the track — five to six days a week, starting at 6:30 a.m.
Waking up around lunch time, as some high school graduates tend to do, is a luxury Tompkins is content to forgo.
“Successful people in the world don’t sleep in until noon,” joked Tompkins, who said he gets out of bed by 8 or 9 a.m. on his off days — perhaps 10 o’clock “if I’m feeling a little lazy.”
Tompkins’ road to Davidson, located about a half hour north of Charlotte, North Carolina, was paved a long time ago — back when he was 3 or 4 years old and a preschooler at First Baptist Academy.
Throughout his time at FBA, Tompkins learned the value of living a structured life — athletically, mentally and spiritually. He purposely enrolled in morning classes at Davidson to afford him some time between studies and practice on the track.
“It was everything I needed,” Tompkins said about life at FBA, “and it definitely prepared me as I move on to college to work hard in the classroom (and) on the field of course, but also to remember who I belong to.”
Bible education is what Tompkins liked most about his time at First Baptist Academy.
“A lot of times, kids don’t care about that or they find it redundant, but it was always something that I loved, and I wanted, and I needed because I knew that on a daily basis I needed that reminder to turn back to God, turn back to Jesus,” Tompkins said. “The real world is hard, it’s not very friendly, and you’ve got to work hard, and you’ve got to turn back to God in those hard times.”
There was one significant obstacle that Tompkins had to navigate around on his way to Davidson. It ended up costing him perhaps not one, but two chances at a state championship.
In early December, Tompkins suffered what he thought to be a minor ankle injury while performing a routine jump-stop in basketball practice. After a brief return to the lineup, however, he said an MRI revealed that a ligament was “gone,” and that there were some microfractures in the ankle bone. A Dec. 14 home win over Seacrest Country Day turned out to be his last game with the Lions, who went on to reach the state semifinals for the first time in program history.
Ankle surgery was an option, but that would effectively end any chance Tompkins had to compete with the FBA track and field squad. With an eye toward the state championships in May, Tompkins elected to undergo an alternate form of healing: platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy.
(Here’s how Tompkins best explains PRP therapy: Blood is drawn from one arm and spun in a centrifuge to separate the plasma, which is then injected into the injury with two or three shots.)
Though it was a painful recovery process (actually, “very painful,” he said), Tompkins was able to get on the track and qualify for states. Though he didn’t clear the height he thought possible prior to the injury, he did manage his best mark of the season to finish third in the high jump.
“It was probably the most disappointed you’ll see someone for getting third place in a state championship, but I was thankful to be there,” said Tompkins, who began track and field as a sophomore in an attempt to better condition himself for the football season.
“(My senior year) wasn’t what I hoped for, but it was definitely something I learned a lot from. You can have everything taken away from you pretty quickly. … I think it was good for me as a person — I don’t think I enjoyed it as an athlete — but it helped me to mature a little bit and grow up.”
Calling his scholarship “an absolute blessing” and “a gift from God,” Tompkins admitted to experiencing some concern about his college career as he recovered from the ankle injury.
Nonetheless, he spent his final year in high school guided by an abiding loyalty to First Baptist Academy.
“Until (I’m) up there (at Davidson), I’m still an FBA Lion,” Tompkins said of his mindset last winter and spring. “I’m still an FBA athlete. I’m still in high school. I’m still a senior. I’m still an 18-year-old kid. I didn’t want to leave the basketball team. I still wanted to enjoy that senior year. I wanted to enjoy the time I have here and try to leave a legacy at First Baptist instead of (bailing) out for a high ankle sprain.
“The coaches have been amazing — (football) Coach (Bill) Sparacio, (football assistant) Coach (Matt) Jansen, (track and field) Coach (Ryan) Mitchell, (boys basketball) Coach (Scott) Stewart. Every coach I’ve had has been able to really get absolutely everything they can out of me. They’ve worked me really, really hard, but they’ve also been people that are friends and mentors to me.”
It was Mitchell who, after seeing Tompkins elevate on the basketball court during his sophomore season, suggested to him that the high jump could be his event.
The goal in Tompkins’ first track meet was simply to clear 5 feet and earn some points for the Lions. He ended up clearing 5’10” — two inches shy of the school record. Later that spring, he cleared 6’3” … and the idea that he could become a Division I college athlete was born.
“And so then I realized, ’OK, I can do pretty well at this,’” Tompkins said. “I realized I was just naturally gifted at it compared to other sports I had played. I didn’t want to waste that (and) I didn’t want to get lazy with it, so I wanted to continue to work hard. I knew that if I gave myself a goal to get to, which was a Division I school, I would continue to work hard.”
A home meet during Tompkins’ junior season indicated that a DI scholarship was well within reach. He swept all four of his events — the high jump, long jump, 200-meter dash and 4×100-meter relay — and shattered the school record in two of them (long jump and 200).
“It was the best meet I had in my life. … That kind of made me realize it is doable, it’s attainable. It’s within reach as long as I work for it.”
At Davidson, Tompkins said, “I’ll pretty much be there for whatever (events) they need to use me for,” including the high jump, long jump and probably the 200. (The decathlon and certain relays are also a possibility, he said.)
Both Tompkins and Davidson’s coaches have modest expectations for his freshman season, which will begin with an indoor meet in early December. A personal record in the high jump could greatly aid the Wildcats in their pursuit of a conference championship.
The summer workouts prescribed to him by his college coaches vary in intensity, Tompkins said.
“They’ve been hard. It’s good stuff, though,” he added. “They’re definitely focused on getting me flexible (and) faster when I get to college.”
A lifelong Florida native, Tompkins said he’s ready — “excited” even — for the cold(er) temperatures that await him this winter — both in Charlotte and in the various locales of Davidson’s track and field meets.
“I’ll have to buy a jacket,” he said.
Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org.