OK, Micah, so when we get to the spring, are you going to be a full-go, contact and everything?
‘'The goal is to be active for spring. Whether or not I will be full-go or partial all depends on my progress up to that point and that will be determined by the training staff and the doctors when that time comes.''
Do you feel good about being there? Is it realistic?
‘'I'm feeling real good about it. I had a few hiccups here and there, but for the most part the doctors say I'm ahead of schedule and everything looks good, my progress is coming along real well. I'm starting to get more integrated in the weight room. I started running … well, attempting to run, two weeks ago and that's coming along steadily. So far so good.''
What was considered a hiccup during your rehab process?
‘'Just unusual aches and pains. If something flares up and the cause is unknown, then they'll kind of back off to see if the pain goes away. If the pain goes away then it was just something, you know, growing pains. But if it persists, then it's something they want to look into. I just had a few snags, mostly just from inactivity to starting to get back in shape. Mostly, the knee is fine, it's just the muscles around it are still weak and that's what rehab will take care of.''
Most of those episodes were a while ago?
And when you've been increasing activity more recently, there hasn't been anything crop up?
‘'Nothing out of the ordinary. Like I said, growing pains, stuff that's expected to be there with the integration of new exercises and things of that nature. … It's very encouraging. With success, the only thing I have to focus on now is not rushing and I've been hearing that from a lot of different people. No matter how good it's feeling, the doctors know what they're doing and the timeline is set for a reason. I can't get ahead of myself.''
Who have you talked to, regarding your rehab, coming back from an injury like this?
‘'I got a lot of advice from former players - Chris Joseph, Pat Cowan, I talked with Kahlil Bell … talked about all the things that they went through and the process and mostly the thing that they stressed on was to stay mentally strong. Our bodies are wonderful things, it will heal, it will come back, but the mind sometimes doesn't … you always have that fear, ‘What if it happens again?' or ‘What if I do something wrong?' They encourage me along, stay strong, keep the faith, and stay mentally ready for anything. That helped a lot. The doctors say as long as the timeline goes, it's coming along well. It's all very encouraging stuff.''
Where are the next markers? Do you have an idea when you step up the running? When you might start doing some more lower body lifting?
‘'As far as lifting goers, I'd like to get back in the squat rack or leg press in the next couple of weeks. I've already started to do some footwork drills, ladder drills, agility work. Very light, slow tempo, since I'm pretty much trying to learn how to run again … I wasn't too good at running to begin with, so it hasn't been a very easy process, especially with the added weight. But in the next couple of weeks, I'd like to get more integrated in the weight room, lower body wise. And, hopefully by the end of next month, I'll be running with the boys.''
The running, were you moving freely? Was it choppy at first?
‘'I expected it to be hard and it is. It has proven to be difficult. The first day I went out and tried to run, I was like a newborn giraffe. It was not pretty at all. But, the body is an amazing thing. In just a two, two and a half week period, it has gotten a lot smoother. I still have a terrible limp when I run, but it's not as bad as it used to be and hopefully I can continue to make those gains.''
You've obviously been doing some stuff with your upper body … I mean, you're huge …
‘'Well, that also comes with a knee injury, a little ACL syndrome … the legs get a little skinny and all I've been able to do all season is lift upper body, so … I can't complain there. I put on some weight, yeah.''
It's good weight, too …
‘'Yes, yes … well, hopefully. We'll see when the time comes.''
Did you increase your numbers that much when you were limited to just upper body stuff?
‘'It's hard to say for sure because I didn't really test on anything. I just did more repetition with everything. I tried to add weight where I could. For a long time, even though you're doing upper body lifts, a lot of your power still comes from your hips and your legs planting. I wasn't able to do that, so there was a lot of isolation on the chest and shoulders and things like that.''
A lot of bench, incline …
‘'A lot of incline bench, a lot of bench, shoulders, back … a lot of core. Core is not fun for an offensive lineman …''
For anybody …
‘'Yeah. But it's been good and hopefully I can maintain what I've done with my upper body while I try to get my legs back in order.''
So do you do an NFL rep?
‘'With the 225 (pounds)? I actually haven't tried that in a while. But I feel strong and I'm ready to go, Like I said, I just can't rush it.''
I was just looking for a way to quantify the gains, because the last time I saw you, you weren't …
‘'Like I said, it's hard to gauge the jumps. Without the legs, it's hard to do any numbers testing, but I do feel confident in the weight room right now. It's coming along good.''
You got to work out, obviously, but how much did you miss playing football last season?
‘'Tremendously. The biggest thing was just the group that left this past senior season, the older guys. Those were all the guys that I came in with, those were the guys that I was closer with. And now there's only about four or five of us left. You know, when you come in and you grow up with these guys, it's a whole new experience, you leave home and this is the family that you make, and it's hard to see them go. They've been the shoulder that's been helping you along and you've been helping them along these past few years. Like I said, we've all grown together and it's going to be difficult without them, mentally, emotionally, but I'm still great friends with the rest of the guys on the team. We've got a nice close-knit bond together, so I'm happy about that. It's pretty good.''
You talk about growing up, I know before your injury in camp, it seemed like you were a different person on the practice field … more vocal, more confident in what you were doing. Did you sense that as well?
‘'It was kind of done purposefully. I had the mindset that it was my last season and I was one of the senior guys on the squad and I believe a lot in seniority, I believe that the longer you've been in the game the more experience you have, the more knowledge you have, the more you can offer the guys underneath you and I was, myself and the other seniors, it was our time to step up as leaders. Up until that time I felt strongly in my role in, I don't want to say so much as a follower, but as a supporter of the older guys. Anybody can be a leader at any age, but there's also age-wise there's still that hierarchy, you know, the guys that you follow and look up to, and up until that point I was a supporter of them. Coming into my senior season it was my turn, along with the other seniors, to be the leaders on the team. I got a little more vocal. I tried to lead a little more by example. It's hard to be a vocal guy when you're on the line – it's hard to talk when you're trying to catch your breath. But the time comes where everyone needs to step up.''
Was that something you guys talked about as a group?
‘'The senior class, we were all real close, and we all felt the same way. We all had that mindset.''
Impression was, you were more of a quiet presence … To take that next step, was that an easy transition for you? Was it something that took some stepping out of your personality, that you had to work at a bit?
‘'It's not an easy transition. It's more of a personality thing. Some guys like to be vocal, some guys would rather keep their mouth shut and lead by example. Leading by example is one of the biggest things – you can say whatever you want but if you don't perform you're not really going to develop that kind of respect. But vocal leadership plays a big role, especially in picking up energy and energy on the practice field is a big factor in having good practices. The more energy you have, it picks up the competition, everyone gets more spirited, as opposed to if everyone gets kind of quiet and solemn not too much excitement going on, then you're just going through the motions.''
When you put that together with where you are in your rehab and how good you're feeling how does that carry forward? What's the next step … you're getting one more shot at it.
‘'Next step is staying the course and doing what the doctors say, following coaches orders, to make sure I get back healthy. We already have great developing leaders on the team. I've been watching them practice the past few days. The running has been going great. Guys are really hungry in the weight room. There's a lot of excitement – they're being very competitive when they're running – and this is from a standpoint of just sitting back. I can't really say anything if I'm not allowed to be in the mix, but I'm really encouraged by what I see from the rest of the team, the hunger they have for the upcoming season.''
Even getting out there in the spring, that would be pretty quick for an ACL …
‘'If I were to go full-go in the spring, it probably would be a perfect recovery, because that's right at that eight-month point. Not too many things are perfect in this world, so I'm not going to get my hopes up, but I would like to be doing at least some type of activity come spring time.''
I know you've got a lot of guys coming back – and I know you've started games at just about every position up front – so where ideally do you see yourself?
‘'I'll play wherever I'm needed. We've got great guys coming back. We lost Xavier (Sua-Filo) and that's a big hit because he was extremely talented, raw talent, and I haven't seen someone like him in a long time. He will be missed. But all these other guys, they all have a year under their belt, a couple of years for some of them, a lot of great talent, and come camp it will be good competition and if I'm able to win a spot I'll go wherever the coaches want me to go. If they put me at tackle, I'll probably want to drop a few pounds because I'm a little heavy right now. If I'm put at guard, I can stay right where I'm at. But, yeah, I'll go where I'm needed.''
Left tackle is going to be an interesting competition …
‘'It will make things fun. And it will be good for everybody.''
Do you enjoy it more as the years have gone on … the competing, the games?
‘'Throughout my career I've been at high points and low points. I've been at a point where I pretty much had the position set, I didn't have to worry about anybody taking it. And there have been times where I've lost it midseason for one reason or another. Coming up on my senior year, I've learned that competition is the best thing for you. If you're set in your ways, there's no one to compete with, you lose your edge and that effects you in the game. But if you're fighting on a week to week basis for that spot, it keeps you on your game, keeps you focused. If that person coming up manages to beat you out, that's because was working hard and he's not the best person for the job.''
You've had to deal with other physical issues that played a role in that …
‘'I have been ailing from time to time and it's frustrating, but it's not something that you can blame it on when it comes right down to it.''
You blame yourself more than an injury?
‘'Yeah. Injuries will come, that's the nature of the game and you've got to play through it. If you can't perform, the job gets passed on.''
So what did you learn from those points, where you were starting then not starting?
‘'There's a lot of levels in humility. You have to be able to humble yourself. It's hard to lose a job, but you need to realize you might not be the best person for the job and ultimately the team comes before everybody. It teaches perseverance, teaches you to keep fighting, keep getting stronger. Like I said, the competition ultimately will make you better. It's been a growing process over the years.''
That process has gone very well for you … in terms of confidence, competitiveness, I keep thinking back to the fall before your injury. You're a completely different person …
‘'I was happy where I was (in the fall), but now I have to … God hit the reset button, so I have to do it again.''
You get to do it again …
‘'I get to do it again. It's a privilege to get to come back.''
I can remember Drew Olson coming back from a knee surgery and having a pretty big senior season, so maybe the same is in store for you …
‘'I remember watching that as a senior in high school … That's the plan.''
Off-Season: Kia on His Return
OK, Micah, so when we get to the spring, are you going to be a full-go, contact and everything?