Coming to Peace

NORMAN, Okla. — The tears streaming down his face told the whole story.

Not a word needed to be spoken.

Slot receiver Ryan Broyles came back for his senior year not just to break records.

Not to enhance his image as the best receiver in Sooner history.

Not just to win all the accolades that come along with being one of the best receivers in college football.

He came back for the same reason it stung so much to have the doctor whisper the devastating news in his ear as he was hunched over on the trainer's table during the Texas A&M game: to complete a journey with guys he's spent time with for multiple years, possibly culminating in a national championship.

"The first thing that went through my mind was just, ‘Wow.' You know what it means," said Broyles, who tore his ACL against A&M. "It's my senior year, never thought football was out of the question at all. So, that's not what I was crying about. It was more just an emotional thing that I'm here to play ball and I can't finish the game. I can't finish the season. I can't finish with these guys. So, that was the biggest thing that hurt me."

What an unselfish statement from such an unselfish human being.

And that's the way he lives his life.

Unselfish. Positive. Forward-moving.

Nevermind the fact that he's lost the final four games of his final season in Norman.

Nevermind the fact that he's lost the opportunity to become the NCAA all-time career receiving yardage leader.

And nevermind the fact that his draft stock could have taken a hit.

He sees the positive in everything.

"Man, I try to keep a level head," Broyles said. "I know it's football. Things happen. [I] never really wanted to just hold me head down. I got in the training room, you know. I started getting treatment on it, got some ice on it and what not. My parents came in, fiance came in and the biggest part for me was having to get up on those crutches in front of them.

"That was really hard for me. [I] had to go take a shower and what not, but after that, you know, I was just like, ‘What's the next step?' I'm always looking forward, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."

No regrets

Some might think after the injury Broyles would regret his decision to return to the University of Oklahoma for his senior season.

Reality is that couldn't be further from the truth.

"Not at all," Broyles said. "I played what, nine games, had fun. I've grown a lot over the past year since last season, really made some big steps in my life. One of them is I have a fiance. I'm so proud to say that I have that. I think if I went to the NFL, things would have been thrown at me. I wouldn't have been mature enough, so I have no regrets at all."

That is a bold statement considering what he's went through.

It's difficult enough to sustain an injury and sit on the sidelines while one's team is doing battle.

But it's another story when a player comes back largely for the camaraderie with his teammates and has that opportunity essentially snatched away from him during his last year.

"Yeah, sitting out there on the sideline not being able to help the team, that's the biggest thing," Broyles said. "No game is greater than another. I know this [weekend] is Oklahoma State, but it's still another game that I'm missing. It's not fun at all, but I'm out there to cheer these guys on."

Broyles has been a man of strong faith in recent days, as evidenced by his trip to Haiti before the season with other members of the team, including quarterback Landry Jones.

He credits that trip with teaching him how materialistic people are in this country compared to others and how important it is to value every moment and take nothing for granted.

It's a trip that helped him value people and relationships more in all parts of his life, but especially on his football team.

Of course, that trip took place at the same time fellow teammate, linebacker Austin Box passed away.

So, maybe, just maybe those experiences and learning the fragility of life are the main reasons he doesn't question returning for his senior year for a second.

But it's also the fact that he feels fortunate to have had the opportunity he's received.

"I've been blessed," Broyles said. "Like you said, I haven't been hurt very much, and if I have, I've played through it. This is an injury that I can't play through. I have no regrets...I feel like I've played a lot of games here. I gave it my all every chance I went out there. You know, it does suck not being able to finish the season, but I think our guys have a good level of perspective on their head and really going into this last game I think that's really going to help us out."

Setback instills knowledge

Throughout the process, Broyles has learned a lot already just in a few weeks.

Perhaps the biggest thing is just how lucky he was to be able to sacrifice his body between the chalk.

Broyles said now he realizes he might have actually "took running for granted."

He describes the difficulty of eating lunch or dinner and not being able to exercise afterward in order to emphasize that point.

"I'm eating cheeseburgers here and there, I'm like, ‘Man, I need to go run it off now,'" Broyles said. "But I'm walking. I'm up walking now. The first couple days after I tore it, it was hard. [I] started the rehab shortly after that, so really more than anything it's just not cool being able to just sit around, you know."

Because of that, Broyles said--and others mention it all the time--he won't complain about the daily grind anymore.

"You go throughout the season and you're like, ‘Man, I'm getting kind of tired. My body's getting worn down,' but I'd take that back any day," Broyles said.

With that said, even though he's been forced to watch from the sidelines for the remainder of the season and can't involve himself with the daily grind right now, that doesn't mean he's not still an integral part of the team.

He is still firmly entrenched in this thing and what's taking place with his team on the field.

Broyles still uses his leadership skills to pull the younger and less veteran guys in the group along.

He's still vocal out there on the practice fields.

And he's not afraid to exert his presence.

"Oh yeah, I'm out there every day," Broyles said. "You know, [I'm] still coaching the guys up. I'm out there maybe an hour in practice. I do rehab shortly, beginning of practice, and I go out there the second half of practice. I still know the play calls. I still know when guys mess up, so I definitely give them my two cents here and there. But they just look for me just to get on the field, not just all about football but just my personality and who I am."

After all, Broyles has contributed to this Big 12 Championship run should the Sooners complete it in Stillwater this weekend.

"It'd mean a great deal," Broyles said. "Another Big 12 Championship. That's why I came here, to win big games. I feel like our guys are capable of doing that. We all believe. No one's heads are down, even if we are underdogs. I heard that today, three points. So, I feel like we go to OU. I feel like we're never the underdog, so guys are really preparing to win just like we do every week."

Looking ahead

Even though he's focused on helping his team win the Big 12 Title while not being out there, at some point he's going to have to look to the future.

It appears Broyles has already come to peace with that.

And it's no slight on the Sooners, but perhaps he's already started doing it.

In fact, an organization at the next level has apparently contacted him.

"I have gotten a call, but I don't know if I should say that," Broyles said. "But yeah, coach has been saying all along that I have enough film. I feel the same way. You know [if] a team gives me a shot, I'm going to give it all I have. I had doubters coming out of high school. I'm sure I have doubters coming out of college, so I'm just going to go in there and compete."

He laid out the time table for how things will go down the next few months.

Broyles plans to stay put in Norman rehabbing throughout December and January before heading off the following month.

"I'm gonna leave out in February to go get a little training in upper body wise, do some interview training, do some training for the Wonderlic," Broyles said. "I'm going to go out to the combine and just get around the coaches and all those guys out there, and then I'll be back here in March for rehab."

In roughly 10 weeks he'll be in the pool running to "get a little sweat in."

Something else that's eased his mind about the transition to the next level is a professional star getting in contact with him.

Current New England Patriots and former Texas Tech Red Raiders receiver Wes Welker made it a point to reach out to Broyles and give him some words of encouragement.

Welker, of course, went undrafted in 2004 and can relate to Broyles quite nicely.

"He had the same ACL [injury]," Broyles said. "He's a guy that--he shot me an email, so that definitely gives me reassurance that guys are thinking about me and other guys have been in the same situation."

Broyles should be fully back in about six months.

Until then, it's all about rehabbing and getting full strength to achieve his dream.

"You know, like I said, a team's going to give me a shot," Broyles said. "I'm going to go out there and do all I can with it. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity. Training-wise, I'm ready to get on that. Like I said, I took running for granted. When I'm up and running again, I'm not going to stop... I'm going to go out there and enjoy my time. If a team gives me a shot, I'm going to go out there. My dream's always [been] to play in the NFL, not to be a first round draft pick, just to be a pick."

Broyles will get that chance.

For now, though, it's all about closing this chapter of his life, and the tears that came with it after he suffered the injury were a start.

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