The aching body of Cedric Thompson, a 6-foot, 235-pound redshirt senior H-back, walks slowly away from the football field.
His pace quickens, reaching a jog. A smile, as bright as the lights that illuminate Bright House Networks Stadium on gameday, runs across his face. Then he sees him, his son Braylon, ready to embrace his father.
Nothing can take them away from that moment.
“He’s very special for me,” Thompson said. “He’s a definite motivation for me, and it just really shows in how much I love him, how much I care for him. I couldn’t imagine loving someone or something as much as I do him.”
Teammates and coaches said Thompson, who is in his fifth year at UCF, has stepped up as a leader.
Some would think that Thompson’s leadership on the football team derived from being a father, but it predated the Dec. 16, 2014 birthdate of his son. The work ethic, lead-by-example attitude and practice-what-you-preach mentality have always been there.
“I take a lot of pride in being a leader on this team,” Thompson said. “I really think it’s important to lead by example and also to sometimes vocalize and just let guys know how I feel — try to encourage, try to help in any way I possibly can.”
His leadership as a football player has carried over to fatherhood. A part of the second-smallest senior class in the nation, Thompson’s role doesn’t go unnoticed by head coach George O’Leary.
“If I had to say there’s one kid on the team that has a passion and understands what’s going on now, it’s Cedric,” he said. “He knows what’s going on and what has to get done, and he’s done a great job with the young kids. As I told the seniors, they control the team off the field and on the field. I think Cedric has taken the role himself to be the guy, and I respect that from him.”
Teammate and close friend Domenic Spencer has seen the transition in Thompson since Braylon came along.
“His attitude [changed],” the senior linebacker said. “The way he approaches his life — I feel like he took his life more serious.”
And Thompson certainly agrees.
“I didn’t really have anyone else to live for besides myself,” Thompson said. “It was just like an immediate change because of the nature of the responsibility I had to take for the life I helped bring into this world.”
The average college student may think that fathering a child in college would make finding time for school work difficult, especially with the added weight of football practice and games, but Thompson managed to be very successful in that matter.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in interpersonal communication in December 2014, a semester early, and is working on a second bachelor’s in hospitality management. He’s also played in 41 games since 2012.
“A lot of people think having a child could be distracting,” Thompson said. “For me, it’s been an immense motivation and definitely a positive factor in my life.
“Once I understood that, it was very easy for me to adjust by understanding what really mattered more.”
In the midst of college life, a football career and taking care of his son, Thompson has always had the support of his second family: his teammates.
“What he does on this football team is for his family,” said Joseph Puopolo, a fellow redshirt senior H-back and good friend. “He’s trying to set a good example for his kid and really give his kid something to look up to when he grows up.”
The early season hasn’t been kind to the young Knights football team, going winless through the first four games and suffering injuries at key offensive positions. But, as Thompson stares down at Braylon in his arms with a glisten in his eyes that only a father could have, the thought of another loss is now second to laughter that emanates from his son.
“He’s always been first in my mind, even before he got here,” Thompson said. “I plan on keeping it that way, and I don’t have a problem with that.”
Victor Ng is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @_victorT24.