It took tight end Braxton Deaver about 10 months to feel like himself again after tearing his ACL. He said that’s pretty typical – and, unfortunately, he has enough experience to make that assessment.
The litmus test for Deaver: a 12-yard curl route.
“Running at full speed, a 12-yard curl and coming right back down, that’s one of the routes that you have to be really comfortable in,” he said. “It’s something until that nine, 10 month mark that you’re not feeling awesome at, but then you really start to feel comfortable.”
Deaver had surgery on his right ACL last Aug. 25th – he had torn his left one two years earlier – so that put him at feeling 100 percent ready to go in late June. And Wednesday brought another milestone in his recovery: the beginning of his final preseason camp.
It’s a day that has been almost a year in the making.
The last time Deaver played, in the Peach Bowl against Texas A&M in January 2014, he had arguably the finest performance of his career: six catches for 116 yards. He was primed for a big senior year, one that had the potential to launch him onto NFL Draft boards. But then during practice on Aug. 18, he was running a route – there was no contact – and his knee gave out. And just like that, his 2014 season was over.
The NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility in November. And Deaver rehabbed diligently, running in a straight line by the end of January and making cuts in April.
In the meantime, his quarterback and roommate, Anthony Boone, graduated and left. So did every other player he initially arrived with at Duke. But Deaver embraced the role of the older teammate and leader and went to work on developing timing with new quarterback Thomas Sirk.
“I hope to be somewhat of a security blanket for him,” Deaver said. “He has the feet to get out of the pocket. And I feel like I sit well in a zone and move well and can be a guy that works with him whichever way he goes.”
Deaver has an infectious, energetic personality that naturally causes his teammates to gravitate toward him. He provides a spark to the offensive line when he comes to block, left guard Lucas Patrick said – something Deaver might be doing more of if the Blue Devils are going to be successful running the football.
“Deaver is a do-everything tight end,” Patrick said. “ We all know he can catch the ball – just go watch Virginia or the Chick-fil-A Bowl from the last year he played. If you want to see him block, just stop by practice any day because he is out there reeling them in.”
Deaver found a new roommate (former wide receiver turned undergraduate assistant Blair Holliday), so there is just one more hurdle to clear before returning to game action. And that one is all mental.
“It is going to go through his mind,” Cutcliffe said of Deaver’s injury. “The only thing I keep telling him is that you never approach or make any decision out of fear.
“Once you get out there and he gets the first hit and gets through a scrimmage or two, some live drills, he’ll be fine.”
That’s advice Deaver has tried to take to heart.
“I didn’t come back to be scared,” he said. “I didn’t come back to be apprehensive. And I’m not going to be.”