For his position coach, Don Dunn, a recent example from Auburn's preseason practice answers that question.
Thompson lost all of a toenail, but didn't miss a minute of practice or even tell the coaches he was hurting. However, Dunn noticed that the big noseguard wasn't quite his normal self in the heat of recent practices.
Josh Thompson redshirted in 2003, but played in all 13 games as a backup to T.J. Jackson.
The coach looked at practice videos from earlier in August and later in August and confirmed his suspicions that something was amiss.
"Nobody knew about it, but he is tough as nails," the defensive line coach says. "That is painful, but he pushed through. That is just the type of kid he is. He is tough as nails and he never complained."
Thompson, a redshirt sophomore from Statesboro, Ga., is coming off an impressive spring and picked up where he left off in fall practices before the toe problem.
"I really wasn't playing really good at the end of two-a-days because I lost the toenail and couldn't push off, but right now I am picking it back up," Thompson says.
"I had to wrap it up for four days. There was no nail there, only meat, but it is getting better now."
Thompson and returning starter, senior noseguard Tommy Jackson, have the potential to give Auburn a tough one-two punch at that position this season. Dunn says it is exciting to see Thompson get back to full speed on the practice field. "If both of those guys are healthy and full speed, they are really, really good for our football team," the coach adds.
Dunn, who also coaches the tackle position, says he plans to work Thompson some at that position this week in practice. "I am going to play him there just as a backup, just as a safety measure," says Dunn, who also experimented with Thompson at tackle in spring training.
"Right now it is Wayne Dickens at tackle with Neil Brown, Tez Doolittle and Pat Sims also playing the position," says Dunn, who notes that Dickens, Jackson and Thompson are his top three interior linemen now. "One of those guys (Brown, Doolittle and Sims) needs to step up in the next couple of days."