Way back in 2007, Chris Palmer was a standout senior defensive lineman at St. John Neumann in Philadelphia. Although the school wasn't great in terms of wins and losses, it has turned out some excellent athletes, and Palmer was no exception. A bit lineman with very good mobility, Palmer signed with West Virginia and expected to be able to help the Mountaineers early in his career.
All of that changed after signing day, however, when the discovery of shoulder injuries forced surgeries that derailed any hope of early playing time. After undergoing those procedures, there was no way Palmer was going to be able to participate during the 2008 season, so he deferred his enrollment until January of 2009.
No sooner did he arrive than he came down with an infected gall bladder, which required another operation to fix. That wiped out his 2009 spring, and although he returned for the fall, the recovery from that procedure set him back again. With the need to develop players that would be able to contribute in 2009, Palmer was again on the back burner.
With spring of 2010 looming as an important period for him, Palmer was hit with a different challenge. NCAA issues with his eligibility kept him off the field again, and capped a frustrating two-year period.
"I had some NCAA problems I had to take care of last spring," Palmer recounted. "It was a surprise, and I didn't expect that at all. I think it was a high school thing, but that's all behind me. I'm looking forward now. When they took my spring away, that just made me more hungry, and made me want to work harder get back on the field and play for West Virginia."
During Palmer's time away from the field, he worked out on his own as best he could. While admitting that it wasn't to the level that the other players were performing, he did try to keep in shape as best he could.
"[Walk-on wide receiver] Terrell Morning and I would work out together," he said of those times when he couldn't participate with the team. "We were running swimming, doing all we could. It wasn't as good as a Mike Joseph workout, but it was what we could do. It was hard not to be able to come in and work with the team. I didn't like that at all, so I am glad to be back."
Putting all those setbacks behind him and rejoining the team was just the first step in the process. Once he got back on the field this fall, there was a ton of work to make up. Palmer acknowledges that, but is also confident he can contribute at some point – perhaps as early as this year.
"There's a lot of rust, but under that rust is a diamond," he said, displaying both the reality of the current situation and his confidence in his potential. "I'm going to be good. Kirlav is going to coach me up, and I have Chris Neild, Scooter Berry and Julian Miller and Josh Taylor and Jorge Wright. I am learning from those guys, so I think I will be good. Last season, toward the end of the season, I felt like I was doing really good. I think I can bring something to the defensive line."
WVU's starting defensive line is solid for this year, but there is always room for someone to help in a backup role, and that's what Palmer is shooting for this year. He also knows, that with Neild graduating after this year, there is playing time available at that spot in 2011. He's not just focusing on that one spot, however.
"I like nose, but I want to play tackle, too. I have the weight to play nose, and the athletic ability to play tackle. I just have to get the feel for tackle, but I think I'm a little better at nose [right now]. There will be snaps available at nose next year. I'm competing with Josh, but we're helping each other too. It's a good vibe."
For a guy who hasn't had much luck, Palmer is certainly due for a good break. An injury-free fall camp has been a good start, but he still has to make up for many of those missed practice sessions.
"I have to relearn the use of my hands, the punch, and my snap off the ball," Palmer said as he listed some of the lessons he must perfect. "I just have to go 100% off the ball all the time, and get my conditioning back."