“I’m happy,” he says. “Met her when I was 15. She was a cheerleader, I was a football player, so it was kind of like a little dream, fairytale type story.”
Earlier memories aren’t quite as pleasant for Thigpen.
One, in particular, still haunts him more than a decade later.
Thigpen was 14 when he and a group of friends decided to ride around in their Detroit neighborhood. The joyride ended tragically with Thigpen behind the wheel of the van and a teenage girl dead in the passenger seat.
Thigpen said his friends had encouraged him to drive faster, which caused him to veer off the road. He ended up in a wooded area and was left to try dodging trees while he was hitting the brakes.
The van slammed into a tree.
The dead girl’s name was Lacrecia Daniels and she had been Thigpen’s girlfriend in elementary school.
Lacrecia Daniels remains a big part of Thigpen’s life, which has taken him through a tour of NFL and CFL teams to his current spot on the Miami Dolphins roster.
“I think about her every single day,” Thigpen, now 26, said softly after practice Sunday. “I still have dreams about her. I have dreams that she’s still alive. Nothing bad, but I dream that she’s still alive like it never happened. I feel like she’s watching over me right now.”
It’s not easy for Thigpen to talk about the accident that forever changed him. But it’s something he feels he has to do.
The reason is simple: He’s looking for forgiveness from Lacrecia Daniels’ family and also is hoping to make them understand he is remorseful.
Thigpen first talked publicly about the accident last year when he was a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
“It was a lot of bad stuff in the air going around, saying I’m living my life, I’m not really remorseful about what happened,” Thigpen said Sunday. “I just wanted to get my side of the story out, that I really do care, that I do still struggle with it sometimes. I still deal with it and I just pray that I can be forgiven by her parents one day.
“That’s all I’m trying to get across, let them know that it was a mistake, it was an accident that happens every day, just want her (Lacrecia's mother) to know there was nothing intentional. I just want her to forgive me and hopefully we can look past it and just move on.”
It wasn’t necessarily easy for Thigpen, who had nearly died at age 7 when he was hit by a car, to move on.
Thigpen told Canada’s National Post that he was put on intensive probation as a result of the accident.
In the days and weeks following the accident, Thigpen began receiving death threats. Eventually, he transferred to another school about 12 miles away.
“I got a couple of death threats because they thought I did it on purpose,” Thigpen said. “I don’t know why. Like I would put my life in danger. My sister was in the car, I had friends in the car. It was nothing like that. But I guess when stuff happens people go off the edge sometimes. They realized that it was just an accident, (but) I think they were just speaking out of anger. I didn’t really take it to heart, but I did have to transfer schools just for my safety and it worked out for the best.
“I was far enough where they wouldn’t just come, I didn’t think they would come to mess with me. I just didn’t want to be in their face every day just having to deal with. Just being around new people, meeting new friends, it definitely worked out, helped out.”
Two people at Mumford High, where he went after transferring from Henry Ford High, would change his life.
One, of course, was his future wife. The other was the school’s offensive coordinator and running backs coach, Kenny Fenton.
Thigpen said he went through a lot of counseling after the accident. Fenton helped accelerate the healing process.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see at first,” Thigpen said of Fenton. “He definitely drove me to be the best me I can be. He talked to me all the time, he was more of a father figure than I had because my dad wasn’t really around, we never really talked. He definitely helped me out a lot, he helped me just become a man. I’m thankful for him.”
Fenton steered Thigpen away from bad influences after Thigpen said he started to go down the wrong path.
Fenton told the National Post he simply asked Thigpen what his goal was, and the answer was: “become a successful person.”
“The accident jump-started his life,” Fenton told the National Post. “Being a young, black man from the city of Detroit you can easily go either way and I think the accident was his sign that he needed to be a success story.”
After high school, Thigpen attended Indiana University, and he left the school ranked second on IU’s all-time list in career kick return yards, third in all-purpose yards and eighth in touchdowns. He also became the first player in school history to reach 1,000 career yards in rushing, receiving and kickoff returns.
Thigpen went undrafted in 2009 and subsequently was released by the Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos and Saskatchewan Roughriders before finally finding success with Hamilton.
With Hamilton, he became the first player in CFL history to score a touchdown five different ways in one season— rushing, receiving, punt return, kickoff return and missed field goal return.
“I’m trying to do something like that here, too,” Thigpen said, smiling.
“Here” is South Florida, where Thigpen is trying to win a roster spot with the Dolphins as a running back and kick returner.
He helped his cause on Friday night with three catches for 40 yards and a 30-yard average on three kickoff returns against Carolina.
“He played well,” Head Coach Joe Philbin said. “You feel him out there. Again, he made an impact. We thought his special teams returns were good. We liked what we saw there. He did some good things. Now, let’s see if he has some consistency and some improvement and development. That’s what we’re looking for this week.”
For Thigpen, the NFL always has been the target when it comes to football. Even with his success in the CFL — he was fourth in the Canadian league last year in combined return yardage — his eye always wandered south of the border.
Perhaps not coincidentally, he shares a locker with another running back trying to make the jump from the CFL to the NFL this year,
“It’s been a long road, but it’s definitely my goal to get back here, to play in the States, obviously with my family and all my friends,” Thigpen said. “It’s a dream come true right now.”
Later, as the conversation turns to the accident, Thigpen wonders about the dreams Lacrecia Daniels never got the chance to fulfill.
The sense of remorse is obvious, even though Thigpen says the accident helped shape the man he has become today.
“It definitely made me into a bigger person, better man,” Thigpen said. “When it first happened, I just felt like everything was my fault. It was just tough dealing with that whole situation, knowing that somebody died under me driving. Just dealing with that alone, it was tough. But I had great support from my mom, my family, all my coaches, teachers. It helped me along the way.
“It helped me realize life is short, you don’t really get too many second chances, so everything that I do now I just kind of do it for her. Ain’t no telling what she could have been doing right now. She didn’t get a chance to graduate from high school, she didn’t get a chance to go to prom and college, all that.”
Thigpen says another person instrumental in helping him move on was a college friend who brought religion into his life.
“When I became a Christian, that’s when I started to really put things in perspective,” Thigpen said. “I knew God forgave me for my sins, for what happened. I was just praying that (Lacrecia’s mother) would forgive me for it. That’s what I wanted to get out there and let people know, it was really an accident and I’m really remorseful for it.”