Coming back from knee surgery, Citadel defensive end Derek Douglas vows to play in 2012
It was the final play of the scrimmage on March 10, just a week before the end of The Citadel’s spring football practice and less than six months before the Bulldogs’ Sept. 1 season opener.
CITADEL FOOTBALL KEY DATES
CITADEL FOOTBALL KEY DATES
July 26 -- Freshmen report, SoCon media day
July 27 -- Women’s Football 101 Clinic
Aug. 2 -- Veterans report
Aug. 3 -- First practice
Aug. 5 -- Citadel media day, community outreach
Aug. 22 -- Scrimmage at Johnson Hagood Stadium
Sept. 1 -- Season opener vs. Charleston Southern
Defensive end Derek Douglas, an All-Southern Conference pick and probably The Citadel’s best football player, was locked in a stalemate with All-SoCon center Mike Sellers. As the two battled, an offensive tackle lost his balance and fell into Douglas’ right leg, which was extended straight behind him.
After Douglas let out a scream, the entire practice field went quiet.
“I went through every single emotion you can have as I was laying there,” said Douglas, who will be a fifth-year senior this fall. “I was mad, I was scared, I was in pain. I just closed my eyes and I was thinking, ‘Oh no, oh no, oh no.’ ”
He wasn’t the only one. After recovering from the initial shock of the injury, Douglas took care to reassure his teammates and his family.
“I knew it was my responsibility as a team leader to show them that it wasn’t the end of the world,” he said. “So I put a smile on my face and told them I was OK and tried to be as strong as possible for everyone else.”
Tests revealed that Douglas, a 6-1, 260-pounder from Garland, Tex., had suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He underwent surgery in mid-April, less than five months out from the season opener against Charleston Southern.
Given that full rehabilitation from ACL surgery can take anywhere from six months to a year — the average length is nine months — it’s far from certain just how much or how well Douglas will be able to play in his final college season. Since he redshirted as a freshman, taking a medical redshirt this year to return in 2013 is not an option.
When The Citadel announced Douglas’ injury in March, coach Kevin Higgins targeted a late September return. The Bulldogs play five games in September, including at North Carolina State on Sept. 22 and at home against SoCon foe Chattanooga on Sept. 29.
Douglas would love to be ready in time for either one of those games.
“My first goal is to make sure that when I do come back, it’s the right time,” he said. “I’d like for it to be by the end of September, but if that’s not the time, it’s not the time. They tell me every day, ‘There’s no date, but you are on schedule.’ I have to take that as a positive, and see where it takes me.”
If Douglas doesn’t make it back by late September, it won’t be for a lack of trying. He’s stacked his rehab work, with Michelle Lomonaco, The Citadel’s assistant director of sports medicine and rehab coordinator, on top of his regular workouts with the Bulldogs’ strength training staff.
Douglas does rehab work five days a week, working to strengthen the muscles around the knee. A good attitude and willingness to work is key to a successful rehab, Lomonaco said.
“That makes or breaks a rehab,” she said. “And Derek’s attitude has been perfect. Typically, they go through a process of denial, and then anger and acceptance. He was down in the dumps for maybe a few days, but then he was ready to get going.”
Said Dougas, “It’s a process every day to come back. It’s not the injury that ruins athletes’ careers, it’s their mentality coming back from the injury.”
Lomonaco was alarmed to read that Douglas had climbed atop a big pile of dirt during a recent Habitat for Humanity project.
“She almost freaked out on me about that,” Douglas said. “But she said I’d been working hard enough, so I should be all right.”
Douglas’ absence — he made 43 tackles during last season’s 4-7 campaign, including 3½ sacks and a team-best 14½ tackles for loss — will be felt until he does return. Justin Oxendine, a 6-3, 250-pound sophomore, will likely get first crack at filling Douglas’ spot. Oxendine played in eight games last year, making four tackles.
“This is going to going to be one of the most special seasons we’ve had in a long time,” said Douglas. “You can see it in the guys’ eyes, and I’m going to be a part of it. I’m playing this season.”