South Florida senior linebacker Brouce Mompremier broke through the Syracuse offensive line and reeled off a big hit on Orange quarterback Cameron Dantley as he let go of a pass in the first quarter. After the oohs and ahhs had settled, a steady chant of “Brooouuuceee” rang throughout Raymond James Stadium.
It was official: Brouce was back.
“When he made that hit, it was like a movie script or something, I got excited,” senior offensive tackle Marc Dile — who graduated high school with Mompremier — said. “That’s why I always call Brouce ‘The General.'”
Mompremier, a Miami native, suffered a spinal cord injury after colliding with teammate Carlton Williams on Sept. 20 — leaving him paralyzed on Florida International University’s field for nearly 30 minutes. He was airlifted to a nearby trauma center in Miami, where he later regained feeling in his arms and legs.
“The General” returned to practice last week — and played in Saturday’s 45-13 victory over Syracuse only four weeks after his injury. He said the early hit gave him confidence.
“The hit on the quarterback was the best feeling of the day,” Mompremier said. “I wasn’t hesitant, and to get that big hit made it easier for the rest of the game.”
Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said it was moving to see Mompremier play again.
“It just means so much to the team,” he said. “They know what he went through. When they saw him laying out there at FIU and the team knelt to pray around him, they knew they might not ever see him play again — or walk again.”
He did walk again.
And when he walked out of the tunnel Saturday wearing a green jersey and a gold helmet, Mompremier said he was overcome with emotion.
“Honestly, I got a little teary-eyed,” he said. “Going back on the field, it was weird putting on my shoulder pads, but to be able to walk out with the guys … it was just great.”
The senior made the most of his return.
Mompremier helped the Bulls’ defense hold the Syracuse offense to nine yards and zero first downs in the second half. He had two solo and two assisted tackles.
Burnham said it was as if nothing had ever happened to Mompremier.
“I couldn’t even tell Brouce had been out,” he said. “He looked great. He looked like he hadn’t even missed a beat.”
Senior defensive end Jarriett Buie said the game was dedicated to his senior counterpart.
“The night before the game, coach came in and told us that this game was for Brouce,” he said. “He stuck his neck out there for us, so we went out and played for him.”
Granted, the defense allowed Orange running back Curtis Brinkley to run for 106 first-half yards. But Mompremier said the defense did some soul-searching at halftime and came out inspired.
“We made a lot of corrections, and most of it was a lot of yelling and screaming in the locker room,” he said.
Burnham said the halftime inspiration was drawn from their once-wounded captain.
“He’s an inspiration to this football team,” he said. “It’s amazing for a kid to have that kind of spirit and intestinal fortitude to bounce back.”
Senior linebacker Tyrone McKenzie plays right beside Mompremier in the nickel defense, which is primarily used in the Bulls’ system.
He said the team is trying to capture the heart that “No. 53” has shown in the last month.
“I looked to my left and saw him standing there next to my locker,” he said. “To see him there shows the passion he has for the game. That’s the kind of passion the whole team talked about that we should have.”
That passion comes with the new perspective he has on football — best showcased by the saying he had written on his sleeve in Saturday’s game: “Earn every breath He gives you.”
He’s earned that breath, said Dile, who might know Mompremier best, as they played together at Miami’s Edison High School.
“He could’ve sat out if he wanted to,” Dile said. “Ever since high school, he’s had a lot of pressure on him from coaches to do well. He’s a natural leader, and that’s what he did out there, led his team. I just hope we can give back all the things that he’s given us.”
So, as Dile said, Saturday’s game was like watching a movie, and an awfully good one at that.
And there was no doubt who it was that played the leading role.
It was “The General.”