As the Statesboro Blue Devils prepared for the 2012 football season, the plan appeared to be simple. With a wishbone attack and a deep stable of running backs, the Devils looked to 6-foot-5, 300-pound tackle John Underwood to clear the way for plenty of success on the ground.
But Underwood’s season lasted all of one play.
On his first snap of a preseason scrimmage, Underwood got his left leg caught under a falling teammate.
“It was a normal trap play,” Underwood recalled. “The guard blocked down and ended up running into me. I wasn’t quite sure what happened at first. I just knew that I couldn’t walk on it very well.”
The aftermath of the ill-fated play was a torn left ACL and MCL for the Devils’ biggest weapon on the offensive line. Underwood had surgery to repair his knee soon after, but was lost for the season.
Facing an entire year of recovery time, there was more at stake for Underwood than the 11 missed games from last season. Already possessing the size to continue playing at the collegiate level, Underwood had spent his first two seasons with the Devils impressing recruiters and garnering the attention of plenty of schools.
A knee injury can be enough to scare off some schools, but Underwood is hopeful that a solid senior season will prove that he’s still a good investment for a top college.
“When I knew it was my ACL, I thought about (being recruited) a little bit,” Underwood said. “But the main thing was just getting healthy. I wanted to get back that quality of living and go back to doing the things I like.
“Some schools are still talking to me and getting a scholarship would be great, but I’m more concerned about helping Statesboro right now.”
A successful surgery and months of intensive rehab sessions got the full function back in Underwood’s knee and a summer full of weight room sessions have helped give him the strength necessary to return to his dominant form on the field. The final hurdle to clear was the mental challenge of confidently going through the same motions that got him injured to begin with.
Underwood knew that he would have some nerves as full-contact drills approached at the beginning of August. His confidence grew through fall camp and on Aug. 16, it was time to face an opponent once again.
Playing in the same type of preseason scrimmage — and against the same opponent — that did in his 2012 season, Underwood looked as though he hadn’t missed any time in helping clear the way for plenty of impressive runs by the Statesboro offense.
It’s officially game week for the Devils and Underwood will once again be a key component of the game plan as Statesboro hosts Lakeside, Evans on Friday night. The first real game for Underwood in over 20 months will be another hurdle, but hopefully the last one in what has been a long road to recovery.
“There are going to be those jitters,” Underwood said. “I had them before the scrimmage and I’m sure that I’ll be a little nervous right before we take the field. But I know that once we start hitting, that will go away. It’ll just be time to get back to work.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.