Mikel Leshoure was a second round draft pick of the Detroit Lions in the 2011 NFL draft. He was hoping to make a big splash his rookie year, but he tore his Achilles tendon three days before his first exhibition game. It wiped out his first pro season, but he feels he is well on his way to full recovery.
"It's doing good. I'll be back by next year; I'm on schedule. I have to hit this rehab hard this offseason and get ready for next year."
Given his situation, does he have any regrets about leaving Illinois a year early?
"I'm still happy, I don't regret the decision at all. I still feel like it's the best decision for me. Things happen. I'm happy this happened on Detroit's practice field rather than at Camp Rantoul. You've just got to move with the punches and keep going. I just have to get after it and get better.
"Everything I learned from school is helping take me through what I'm doing now. I'm happy with my career, and I can't wait to get back next year."
As others have noted, moving from the college to pro ranks requires a major adjustment.
"There's a big difference. The game speed, the players, the off-the-field things. You don't have to worry about school, it's just football. It changes your life, but it's everything I always wanted. So I'm living my dream now."
Of course, it is a business and must be accepted for what it is.
"It's a job. They pay you to do your job, and you've got to approach it with a professional attitude. That's the number one thing I've learned so far...it's a job now. You're a professional, so you have to be professional on and off the field. I think I'm doing a good job of that. I just want to get better as a professional athlete."
Leshoure is excited about the future of Detroit Lion football. Making the playoffs this year could be a stepping stone for better things to come.
"We're on our way. We're still a few people away. This game tonight ( a 45-28 loss to New Orleans) is gonna show the direction we're moving. We're still young a little bit and making mistakes here and there. But once we get this playoff feel back under our belt, it will get us going for next year like we did years ago."
Despite his injury, Leshoure is close to his teammates and has embraced their efforts during the 2011 season.
"I'm very proud. I've been around these guys very day, every practice, every meeting, being with the team. I've traveled with the team, although I didn't travel this week. Every other game I've been there. I'm proud of these guys. We've got a lot to prove to ourselves and our fans."
Leshoure's college coach Ron Zook was fired in November. But he takes a philosophical approach to the future of Illini football.
"Illinois is moving in a good direction. I was sad to see them leave, but it's just time for a change I guess."