Middlebrooks challenged, yet optimistic

Ever since sustaining a torn ACL against Arizona last year, senior running back Kyle Middlebrooks has been on the road to recovery. Now with less than two weeks until Arizona State's season opener, Middlebrooks remains hopeful that he will be able to contribute in what could be his final year as a Sun Devil.

Wednesday marked the first day of fall in which Kyle Middlebrooks didn't don the green no-contact jersey, and he's back taking snaps with the offense for the first time this preseason.

"It feels good, just feeling a part of the team again," Middlebrooks said. "I'm not really standing around anymore, kind of getting more reps, so it feels good."

While he is back on the field, Middlebrooks still looks to be favoring the other leg in certain situations, a reminder that bouncing back from a knee injury like his is going to take time.

"I'm still in the recovery process right now," Middlebrooks explained. "It's a long road. With my knee, I tore my ACL and had a couple of more things done to it, so it took a little bit more time, you just have to keep yourself patient and in good spirits.

"In June, that's when I really started getting into the running and conditioning and everything. At first I was pretty much just doing minor workouts, nothing with my legs, and then doing a lot of work with the physical therapist. About half way through the summer I started running but it was a bit more modified because I had a hard time cutting here and there. It was just a long process."

Typically, when an athlete tears his or her ACL, they face a nine to 12 month recovery period. Middlebrooks is seemingly ahead of schedule being able to participate in full contact drills following his late November injury. He said that he didn't expect to come back this fast, but support from his teammates and constant reassurance has helped tenfold.

"They are really encouraging with me, asking about my knee and everything and keeping me up," Middlebrooks said of his teammates. "They've seen my whole process and they've gone through it with me. I've been just basing myself off of that everyday."

Middlebrooks confessed to being somewhat gun-shy when he's about to take contact, but the knee brace that he's been wearing offers him some peace of mind.

"[The brace] just gives me a lot more confidence," he said. "I'm going to get hit, and it's going to give me the best support but the hardest part is just getting confidence to not think about the knee."

All things considered, Middlebrooks is still the fourth option at running back behind Marion Grice, D.J. Foster and a now healthy Deantre Lewis. Getting meaningful touches is going to be tough this season, but that's something that Middlebrooks already experienced last year as a junior after being a major contributor his first two seasons as a Devil.

"I just tried to stay positive really," Middlebrooks said of his reduced role. "The first two years went really well and then stuff happens when you get a coaching change and a position change. It sucks but you just have to stay positive and at the same time you just have to do it for the team."

Throughout his career, Middlebrooks has shifted back and forth from running back to wide receiver and has never really cemented his role on this squad. Although he prefers playing running back, he's willing to play both if that's what is required of him.

"I'm fine with it because I know I'm versatile and it's whatever can help the team," Middlebrooks noted. "But at the same time just going through it, even when coach E (Dennis Erickson) was here, I was doing the same exact thing so now I'm at a point where I wish I would have stayed at just one instead of flip-flopping so many times. But that's just how it works sometimes."

Middlebrooks is working these days at running back even though he's listed as a wide receiver on the official team roster. Regardless of what his position is, he's ready to be fully healthy so he can contribute once again.

"To be honest, the main goal that I set for myself is to just be 100 percent and be physically and mentally ready for whatever happens," Middlebrooks said. "Best-case scenario, I end up playing."

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