"You never know," said linebacker Gabe O'Neal. "The person behind you is working just as hard as you so you have to keep up the good work to try to keep your position."
O'Neal knows what he is talking about very well. The true sophomore is currently limited to the sideline after corrective surgery that cleaned up some loose cartilage in his left knee. Of course ‘limited' is a relative term. Tuesday O'Neal was already jogging all the way around the practice field, a sleeve on the repaired knee, while full-strength teammates ran through the full-speed drills.
O'Neal, listed as the starting strongside linebacker, is optimistic about August. "It's come along a lot quicker than they thought and it surprised me, but I've got to get ready for the season."
The sophomore isn't the only young Dog to have had July surgery. True freshman lineman Calvin Wilson reported to campus with a sore right knee. Medication and treatment were tried first, then as swelling and soreness persisted the routine operation was performed and some torn cartilage shaved away. Wilson isn't running yet but is moving in prescribed patterns and riding the sideline bike for conditioning. He should be ready to work in August.
Meanwhile flanker Will Prosser is also coming off surgery, in his case to fix a broken foot bone suffered last week. "I hurt it during a cone-drill," the junior said. "I felt it pop as I made a cut." The injury turned out to be almost identical to the stress fracture basketball guard Winsome Frazier suffered last January. The time-frame for Prosser's recovery is about the same, too.
And he can't get back to work soon enough. "I've lost about four pounds, my legs are looking skinny," Prosser said, before setting aside his crutches to get on the conditioning bike. By next week he hopes to be ‘running' in the training room pool, and able to go full-speed come two-a-days. Prosser is very glad his injury was unike Frazier's in one key aspect; that it came here before the season, not during real competition.
The exertions of O'Neal, Wilson, and Prosser are good but not unique examples of the exertions many Bulldogs are giving this pre-preseason despite less-than-perfect health. "I think everybody is getting ready, I see everybody working hard even in the training room," said O'Neal. "The re-habbing, they're pushing us a lot harder."
It's paying off. A couple of young wideouts coming off spring problems are running full-speed now. Keon Humphries, who needed knee cartilage repaired, not merely trimmed, looks now as if he never missed a beat. Jonathan Lowe appears to be all the way back after work to repair a fractured neck bone. And while true frosh Adron Chambers is in obvious pain with severe shin splints, he still is participating in every drill.
Back on the offensive line, senior center Chris McNeil shows no signs of the hamstring strain suffered two weeks ago. He not only is doing every drill, but directing post-workout ‘practices' pitting blockers against defensive linemen one-on-one. It's all unsupervised of course, but the blockers and rushers still go after each other with vigor and lots of skin gets slapped in the process. Tuesday, spring tackle Johnny Wadley was lined up as a guard and guard Brian Anderson at tackle, while redshirt Dio Herrera was also a guard and true rookie Johnny Carpenter snapping the tee-shirt (no ball was being used). Tackle Roland Terry, limited lately with a bad back, was doing full drills for the first time.
This was the next-to-last ‘run' day in the summer program as the second semester is coming to an end. The Bulldogs will lift on Wednesday, then run again on Thursday. Then it is time for a short break before the official reporting date of August 3.
It's as if the team can hear the preseason clock ticking already. "Yeah, every position has got to work hard," said O'Neal, "just do our part, do our running and lifting every day and just push yourself and get better." This includes the newest names on the roster, many of whom are already being booked for freshman action. O'Neal better than most understands what reality will be for the rookies, having been through the first-year process himself in 2004.
"You never know when they'll throw you in there, you've just got to be dedicated, work hard, keep your mind right, and you never know when your time will come."
Note: The three Bulldogs whose July 8 arrests after incidents at a Columbus, Miss., nightspot have just become public all continued to participate in summer workouts. Defensive ends Michael Heard and Titus Brown and defensive back De'Mon Glanton were all at Tuesday's session. Coach Sylvester Croom has said, in a statement provided through the Media Relations Office, that he plans no disciplinary action as a result of the incident.