Ambrose: 100% Recovered From Knee Injury

STARKVILLE - Derek Ambrose had the feeling that the world was coming down on him last year. It almost seemed unreal. After all, the Mississippi State tailback was getting ready for what he thought would be his senior season.

Then, Hurricane Katrina left her wrath and the entire Gulf Coast region in shambles, particularly Ambrose's hometown of New Orleans.

Ambrose went days before he finally got in touch with his family members, and to learn only material items were lost in the aftermath of Katrina.

Once that healing process began, Ambrose had to go through some physical healing.

Derek Ambrose went into the 2005 campaign as a former walk-on who earned a spot on the 2004 squad and managed to get on the field for a couple of carries.

Now he had risen in the depth chart, and was the top back-up to Jerious Norwood, the school's all-time leading rusher and current member of the Atlanta Falcons. In State's first two games, Ambrose had 15 carries for 90 yards, averaging a nice six yards a tote.

Then on the opening kickoff against Tulane, Ambrose was blindsided and his knee took the brunt of the collision. It was a torn ACL and after only two games and one kickoff, the 2005 campaign was done for Ambrose.

"It was a long process," said Ambrose. "The (injury) came at a time when I was moving up the depth chart and backing up Norwood at the time. It was the Tulane game, my senior year and happened at a time where you think things may go down the drain.

"Luckily, I was able to get my other year. At the end of last year, Coach Croom told me some NFL scouts were interested in some things I have done on special teams. But I wanted to come back and I wanted to come back for the team and finish out my senior year. Now I have that chance."

And of all teams to be playing Ambrose suffered his serious setback.

"Plus the fact (the injury) came against Tulane, a team from New Orleans, that had suffered so much loss," recalled Ambrose. "And I got hurt on the first play and it was by a guy coming from a scheme they don't run, seeming almost like they were gunning for me.

"But it was like a domino effect at the time. It was something that was unimaginable for me, with Hurricane Katrina and then the knee injury."

Yet Ambrose kept fighting and showed signs of being back to his old self in the spring after registering 17 rushes for 75 yards and a touchdown in three spring scrimmages.

His coaches were not concerned about the physical aspect of Ambrose's injury. In fact, the knee was stronger. The real test would be mentally.

"The knee is 100 percent and actually stronger than it was before the injury," said Mississippi State running backs coach Shane Beamer. "But we had to see what would happen on that first cut, that first time to get hit or first time to get tangled up on the bottom of a pile. Once he started trusting his knee again, he was fine. He just has to trust his knee."

Ambrose was right in sync with his coaches about the mental aspect over-riding the physical demands from his injury.

"It was more mental," Ambrose agreed. "I had to get myself back to where I could run the ball hard again and not think about the fact of being my last time and trying to get over the hump. The spring really helped me get over that mental hump.

"Now in two-a-days, it really helps me to just concentrate running hard and now my legs are getting stronger. They are tired with two-a-days and all, but now I feel I am ready to go through the season."

Yes, Ambrose missed the majority of the 2005 campaign, forced to watch his teammates on the field. But it wasn't a total waste, and Ambrose made sure of that.

Combined with the knowledge he gained his first year on campus in 2004, Ambrose took plenty of mental notes behind Norwood.

He learned from one of the best, about the do's and don'ts of a ground game in the Southeastern Conference. And who better to learn from than the best producing tailback in Bulldog history?

"When you have a guy like Jerious Norwood on a team, you try to do a lot of learning by observing and watching him," said Ambrose. "I feel as though I learned a lot watching him and backing him up. You see up close what makes him special and see the work he puts in. You try to take all the positives you can to improve your own game and just being around Jerious did that for myself."

While Norwood did leave behind some mental tips for Ambrose and other Bulldog backs, his physical absence is one of the hottest topics surrounding the Bulldog offensive attack in 2006.

Who can replace Norwood and will there be more options or combinations to fill the void?

Ambrose sees all the competition daily in practice. Brandon Thornton, the starting tailback exiting spring practice, is atop the depth chart.

Ambrose finds himself in another battle on the depth chart with much-heralded rookie Anthony Dixon and possibly Tulane transfer Christian Ducre, depending on his transfer status.

But it's nothing Ambrose hasn't been through before. He's seen tougher times and came out a stronger person for it.

"You never know how things will turn out," said Ambrose. "I could be the starting back by the first game or I could get no playing time. I really try not to worry about that and just let the coaches worry about that aspect and let Coach Croom make the decisions. But either way, they will get my best effort."


Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at pjones@cdispatch.com.

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