Ole Miss Strong Safety Jamarca Sanford had never been sidelined in his football career for an extended period of time.
Until last spring.
Due to a well-documented sports hernia obtained late in the season, he had to have offseason surgery, he had to miss spring training and he was not cleared to resume full workouts until June.
He went nearly six months without his passion - football.
"I've had minor injuries before - we all have, where I missed a day or two, but nothing like that," noted Sanford, known for the punch he packs when he takes down ballcarriers. "It was brutal to feel so helpless while all my teammates were practicing and working out.
"It got to me some because I knew I was falling behind and missing things I needed to be involved in."
Jamarca dutifully went to spring training, standing next to Patrick Willis, who also was held out of practice during that time. Both were very vocal in encouraging their teammates, but it was obvious it ws eating both of them up from the inside-out to not be on the field.
"Football is all I've ever done. You don't realize it sometimes, but it's part of your identity. When you can't get out there, it gnaws at you," he continued.
The trainers and coaches were as careful with Sanford as they were with Willis. They know his value to the Rebel defense and did not want him coming back prematurely and risk missing games this fall.
"I know taking rehab slow was the best thing for me, but it was hard," he explained. "I just missed everything - being with the guys working out. The competition. Even the running."
When he was finally cleared by the Rebel trainers and his doctors to resume full-speed training again, he tried to make up for lost time.
"It was hard for me to imagine how out of shape you can get in a few months. I looked the same, but I was really out of condition," Jamarca added. "I had to double up to try to catch up."
But the real test came in August when fall camp cranked up.
How much would he be behind? How would that first contact feel? Was he still sharp on his assignments?
The answers were: a lot, real good and no.
"The contact part was no problem. I was a little anxious to get it behind me, but I knew what the result was going to be. I knew I was still going to be able to hit hard," he smiled. "I didn't think about that part of it, but I was rusty with everything else.
"It took me more time to catch up mentally than it did physically."
Even though Sanford was the starter for the Rebels last year at SS, it took him a week or so to knock the rust off. Now, all is fine.
"I had the basics down because of the playing time I had last year. I just needed to do some fine-tuning," he explained. "Now, I feel like I'm on schedule and have caught up.
"I think all of us in the secondary feel more comfortable now and we can be a little more free-wheeling. We know our responsibilities better now than we did last year so we are more relaxed and sure of ourselves. We all played real conservatively last year while we were learning the system. I think we will be able to take some calculated risks this year and make more big plays."
Jamarca, who dons lucky number 13, is expecting big things from the Rebel secondary this year.
"We should be much better. We know the system now, we have three starters back, we have great backups in guys like B. Brown, who can play any position, we have some excellent freshmen and our new starting corner, Nate (Banks), is having a very good camp," he closed. "I know of no reason why we can't be real good in the secondary."
With a full-speed Sanford ready to go, opposing wide receivers better step lightly over the middle.
Secondary Coach Chris Rippon likes to say Sanford has "a bit of rattlesnake in him."
And he's ready to strike.
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