C.J. Brown can run again. For him and the Maryland football team, this is a good thing. It means that the senior captain is one step closer to returning to the field after tearing his ACL during a non-contact preseason drill last August. It also means the temptation to rush through a comeback fades away, if only a little more each day.
Ever since cutting and subsequently crumpling on the Byrd Stadium turf, his junior season ripped to shreds, Brown has progressed through his rehabilitation, working toward a long-awaited comeback. At a younger age, Brown might have short-changed himself during the process, anxious to return rather than take proper care. But with time came perspective. Brown saw teammates suffer the same injury, and how they responded.
Now that his knee is healthier and stronger, he began running three weeks ago, only in straight lines to start. The first week, Brown’s body ached. His muscled were stiff. His ankles throbbed. Only constant ice treatment kept the soreness away. Eventually, he progressed to some drop steps, side-to-side movements and lateral running. The majority of Brown’s running come through conditioning drills, like 100-yard runs or laps.
During spring practices, Brown will perform individual work. Coach Randy Edsall hopes he can do some seven-on-seven non-contact drills, too. Brown, who has remained on schedule since undergoing surgery last year, aims to be 100 percent by training camp.
“C.J. is one of the hardest workers we have,” center Evan Mulrooney said. “He’s worked hard to get back on the field ever since he got hurt. The day after, he was getting treatment, getting ready for surgery. He’s out there, running around, getting back in to the mix, he’ll be limited in spring ball but he’ll compete just like anyone of us.”
Just in time, too. As a returning captain, Brown has become more of a public face for the Terps and hosted a Google-plus hangout with Edsall on National Signing Day. He attends dinners with donors, most of whom ask him the same, curious question: “When will you be back?” But the soft-spoken Brown seems at ease now, far more comfortable than last season, when he entered preseason as the clear-cut starter.
“The more you interact with people, the more you talk about certain things, the more you’ll be comfortable,” Brown said. “Just be yourself and say what’s on your mind. People will ask questions because they want to know. They don’t get to experience what you go through every day. It’s a different perspective.”
Wearing a headset during games last season, Brown received another perspective – that of a coach. With his fellow quarterbacks suffering similar season-ending injuries on a near-regular basis, it seemed like Brown was working with a different signal-caller each week. He sat in on meetings and sometimes acted as a liaison between players and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, so they could bring Brown questions first.
“Being able to be on the headset really helped,” Brown said. “It really helped stay in tuned with the game, to communicate upstairs to him. It definitely helped being in on meetings and things like that.”
Also in attendance at those meetings, plenty healthy but unable to participate in games, was junior Ricardo Young. Young sat out 2012 per NCAA transfer rules and will work with the first-team offense during spring practices with Brown limited. Young says the two have become close friends and possess similar dual-threat styles.
Young could wind up being a seat-warmer for Brown, or a legitimate challenger to the starting spot. But if he has learned anything from his lengthy rehab process, it’s to keep fighting.
“It’s tough, but there’s going to be competition anywhere,” Brown said. “I’ve been through it before. To me, it’s not really a new thing. Every year, you have to compete and prove yourself. They know what I can do, I just have to prove that I can still do that.”