(Photo courtesy of Florida State Athletics)

As my sophomore season approached, I had the feeling it was going to be special.

I was coming off a solid freshman campaign, where I was the sixth man on our team, so I had been the first one off the bench. Now that I had a year of experience under my belt, I had a chance to be in the starting lineup.

Then just as our preseason practices were getting underway, I hyperextended my right knee. I missed most of the rest of the fall practices and even the season opener, and when I finally did return, I wasn't in the starting lineup. I was going to be the sixth man for the second straight season.

When I was coming off the bench the first season, it was already a big transition, being a two-time state champion in high school. At the same time, I knew I was a freshman and it was what the coaches wanted. It has always been my nature to do anything that will help the team win.  If that meant me coming off of the bench as a sophomore, that’s exactly what I was going to do.

From a young age my parents instilled in me that being a team player means everything, and that God puts you in position to be successful; He wouldn’t put me into a situation He didn’t think I could handle.  I was going to support my teammates because they support everything I do. They were the ones who were constantly checking in and seeing how I was doing when I was out. They wanted to see me come back just as much as I did.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Athletics)

With me coming off the bench, our team made it to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed, and then beat Missouri in our opener. That gave us a second round matchup against Xavier, the No. 1 seed in our region. They were 29-5 going into that game, and built a 58-46 lead midway through the second half, but I knew by this point that a little setback doesn't mean that you give up.

We slowly began to chip away at the lead, and I remember at one point during one of our timeouts, me and my teammate Mfioundu Kabengele looked at each other like let's go win.

Terance Man, a junior on our team at the time, hit a tough runner to cut the deficit to 66-59 with 5:28 to play, and moments later I was able to find a lane to pull us within 66-61. Then an errant pass found its way into my hands, and after another layup and foul, suddenly we were within 66-64.

But just like we weren't going to go down without a fight, neither was Xavier. The Musketeers still led 70-68 with a little over a minute to go and they had the ball when my teammate PJ Savoy helped strip it away. The ball landed right in my hands, and I immediately broke towards the other end. I had PJ on my right and Terance on my left, so I knew I had a good option either way. The thing was, PJ is an awesome 3-point shooter, and a basket here would give us the lead. I threw it over to P.J. and he buried it to put us up. A few moments later, we were dancing our way into the Sweet 16.

Being the underdog, and proving everybody wrong, was an incredible feeling. We then upset Gonzaga to advance all the way to the Elite Eight, and we could see on our social media that the students and fans in Tallahassee were loving every minute of it.

We're hoping this season we can go at least one step further.

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Thomas Hager