Step At A Time

<b>Jeff Womble</b> will never forget that sound and sensation. Womble, FSU's starting nose guard, planted his left foot in the turf and went to pivot against N.C. State last season. He heard a pop and the feeling of a teammate kicking him near the back of his ankle. That wasn't a good combination. "I hopped off the field and I knew what it was," Womble said. Eight months later, Womble has been cleared for practice following Achilles tendon surgery, and he can't wait to get started.

Jeff Womble will never forget that sound and sensation.

Womble, Florida State's starting nose guard, planted his left foot in the turf and went to pivot during a play against North Carolina State last season. He initially heard a pop and the feeling of a teammate kicking him near the back of his ankle.

That wasn't a good combo.

"I hopped off the field and I knew what it was," Womble said.

Womble's fears were realized when he was diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the heal bone. A somber Womble required surgery and faced a lengthy rehabilitation.

Of course, the length of time for healing is highly variable. Often it may take anywhere from six months to a year for complete healing to occur following surgery. Womble considers himself fortunate. He has been cleared medically for the start of practice next week, eight months after surgery.

"So far everything has been going good," a smiling Womble said Monday following the Seminoles' summer conditioning session.

"I've been going to school, rehabbing, coming out here and getting better. Right now I am pretty far along compared to most people who have had this injury. I attribute that to staying here all summer, rehabbing and working out. I have been doing things right now to help get my strength back."

Womble, a three-year starter from Dunwoody, Ga., will help anchor the Seminoles' defense this season. In fact, he teams with fellow four-year starter Darnell Dockett, junior Travis Johnson and sophomore Broderick Bunkley to give FSU one of the best interior lines in the nation.

While Womble feels he's rounding into conditioning form, regaining calf strength is a priority. A four-inch scar is slightly visible on his lower left leg.

"Everything is mended and healed, but the big thing has been the strength in my calf," Womble said.

"I lost so much because I was in a cast. Then I had to wear a (protective) boot for so long that I went so many months without being able to do any calf exercises. That's the biggest thing. I am starting to get a lot of that strength back. It's coming along pretty good. I have been working hard. Once the doctor told me I was cleared and I could go and do anything. … it has healed good. I want to get back out there."

Womble started five games last season, pushing his career total to 28, and finished 13th on the team with 37 tackles. He also was fourth overall with 11 tackles for loss and was credited with four quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. After suffering a knee injury during two-a-days last season, Womble felt he was rounding into form late last year.

Then came that sound and sensation against the Wolfpack.

"I don't know if anybody else heard it, but you can hear it," Womble said as he made a popping noise.

"It felt like somebody kicked me. It just popped. I tried to take a little pivot step, and it felt like somebody stepped on the back of my heal. I knew it right when I did it. The thing is, you can push down with your foot but you couldn't pull it up. I tried to pull it up… I couldn't. I hopped off the field and told them it was my Achilles."

The road to recovery has been arduous, but Womble feels good. He has been extremely visible during workouts, pushing himself in conditioning drills. Assistant coach Odell Haggins wants Womble to lose at least 10 more pounds. Like his veteran teammates, Womble wants to make sure the Seminoles rebound from their recent struggles.

While Womble points to experience and leadership as keys to the season, he also realizes the importance of health.

"Right now, I am around 300 pounds," Womble said.

"Last year I was 295 to 300. I came in at 286 but I messed up my knee in two-a-days and gained some weight. I am around 300 but I am probably in more shape at 300 than I was last year. The thing is I was around 315 at the start of summer. I have brought it down but I feel good at this weight. Odell says he's not going to let me do anything unless I get down to 290 or 295. That's fine, too.

"I feel great and I want to make sure I am able to go for the first game."


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