"Coach Shula told them they were curing the injury, but they hadn't fixed the problem," soaphomore wide receiver Will Oakley said. "The training staff found a scientific solution."
More than once during August practice Shula has commented on the good camp that Oakley is having. And the head coach always notes that it is evident Oakley worked hard in the summer because he is in such good shape.
Oakley has always been a hard worker. The difference this year is he is able to work without fear of injury.
Oakley takes plenty of preventive action before practice. He shows up at the Bama training room an hour early for stretching and heat treatment. He wears hamstring tights under his practice togs. And after practice he spends extra time in ice-down.
But the real solution came when Oakley changed the balance between the strength in his hamstring muscles and the strength in his quadricep muscles. That ratio should be 3-2, hamstring over quadricep. During his nearly two-year period of problems, Oakley's muscles were in nearly 50-50 balance.
So he went to work increasing the strength of his hamstrings.
Now, he said, his hamstrings measure out to about 82 or 83, well above the 60 in a desired 60-40 ratio. "It's about as strong as it can be without losing speed or flexibility," Oakley said.
"Before it was like if you had a car and the wheels were out of balance," Oakley said. "It puts stress where it shouldn't be."
In addition to the weight training, Oakley takes the advice of former Bama star running back Shaun Alexander, who was the MVP in the NFL last year for his work with the Seattle Seahawks. "He told me to be smart about it," Oakley said. "You can tell when your hamstring is tightening up, and that's when you need to make sure you get it sretched out until it is loose. You might think you want to suck it up and run through it, but some things you just can't do."
Oakley also was willing to work hard to recover from his injury and do the preventive maintenance recommended by the trainers. Part of his inspiration came from former Tide quarterback Brodie Croyle. "When Brodie tore his ACL, he worked hard to overcome it. I saw this great player working like that, and I knew that's what I had to do."
Oakley is not surprised that he is asked frequently about his hamstring. "I expect it," he said. "But you can't look at the past. I think about keeping healthy, and it feels good to be healthy. But more than that I'm focused on getting ready for the season.
"I can run, I can concentrate on my route, I can focus on how to beat the DB (defensive back) and catch the ball instead of worrying about hurting myself. When you are healthy, everything else comes easier."
Oakley, 6-1, 192, has had only a few seconds of game time in his first two years at Alabama, redshirting in 2004 and going out after just 12 plays last season. He has not had a game reception. But he has had very good practices. "I can go deep or I can catch the short ones," he said. "I don't care as long as I'm on the field."
Will is the son of former Alabama baseball player Bill Oakley (1979-82). He prepped at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where his quarterback was Tim Tebow, the highly-acclaimed Florida quarterback. Will's grandfather, Jim, is in the dean's office of the College of Communication and Information Sciences.