CHAMPAIGN - Mike Dudek is a student of ACL tears. He's suffered two of them to the same knee in 12 months. He's met with many doctors about the injury, including world-renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews who performed Dudek's second ACL surgery this past spring.
Best-case scenario: players return after a little more than four months, the expert Dudek said. But doctors usually don't clear players until at least six months, he added.
"My sixth month would put me at the Nebraska game," Dudek said.
Will he be ready to play by that Oct. 1 Big Ten opener in Lincoln?
"I don't know," Dudek said. "It's a long shot. If I'm ready, I'm going to play. But if not, I won't be upset about it. I got a lot of years left of football, so I'm not going to rush back. I'm not going to push anything. I'm going to listen to my body, listen to my trainer, listen to my coaches. But if I can go, I'm going to go."
Dudek's phenomenal freshman season (76 catches, 1,038 yards, six touchdowns) seems a distant memory. Visions of breaking David Williams' receiving records likely have disappeared, as have desires to preserve eligibility. Dudek just wants to get back on the field as soon as possible. But he also doesn't want to jeopardize his entire football future by rushing back too soon.
"I'm four and a half months out of rehab, so I really just started sprinting," Dudek said, "I can do everything in the weight room, running, jumping, doing all that. Next up is lateral cuts, so as soon as I start doing that it will be a progression from there. Overall, I'm feeling good."
Dudek, who played at 177 pounds as a freshman, has improved his game in one way. He's added 15 pounds of muscle to a noticeably jacked-up upper body. He said the competition in the weight room has helped him feel more a part of the team and help him clear some mental hurdles of two straight serious injuries.
"My biggest challenge definitely was getting over that mental barrier I guess you could say that knowing when the trainers said I could run I could run and when the trainers said I could jump I could jump," Dudek said. "Then it's just an accomplishment of each day going out there knowing I'm getting better and getting closer to returning.
"Still the same little aches and pains and still the little mental funks you get down in. But right now, I've best I've been in a while physically and mentally. I'm just ready to get going and get back out there as soon as I can."
Watch the video above for more comments from Dudek.