March 28, 2011
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
AND THE WINNER IS: This was Monday and the 'Cats had just finished their first post-spring-break practice and now, in the middle of the field, Pat Fitzgerald was lecturing sternly and out of his mouth popped the word suntans. So, later, we just had to ask if he had seen a number of them. "All it takes is one for me, so it doesn't matter," he said. "But I think (wide receiver Jeremy) Ebert wins. I think he's got the nicest tan. I'm not surprised. Jeremy's always been a good-looking guy."
BUT SERIOUSLY, FOLKS: The 'Cats drilled for two hours in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets. When asked how they looked, Fitzgerald opined: "Like they were still on spring break, but that's to be expected. That's what we predicted as coaches. Knowing our leadership over the past (years), they'll come back tomorrow with a vengeance."
WHAT I DID ON MY SPRING BREAK: Fitzgerald and his family went to Naples, Fla. "It was good to recharge, it was good to be a dad. It was good. It was a good week," he reported. But? "It's good to be back going again," he added.
SPRING RESURRECTION: He underwent a shoulder operation on Feb. 16 and was expected to be a non-combatant until the 'Cats reconvened in late summer. But on Monday linebacker Bryce McNaul was dressed out and on the field and practicing with no limitations. "It sounds a lot worse than it actually was," he would say of the operation, which removed the AC joint from his shoulder. "What it turned out to be was the accumulation of shoulder injuries over the years and the pounding, especially this past season. . .(produced) a good amount of debris and broken bones and stuff up in the shoulder. It was kind of a thing, after the season, I'm used to pushing through it and getting back to full strength. But it wasn't happening, so we went in there and cleaned it up."
He was fairly smiling as he offered this description, which we mentioned to him.
"It's kind of funny because the last shoulder surgery I had was around the same time after the Alamo Bowl back in '09," he said, smiling still. "That was an eight-month recovery and it was kind of all doom-and-gloom. So when they told me shoulder surgery, and especially when they said we're taking your AC joint out, I'm like, 'Oh, great. Here we go again.' But I came out of surgery and I kind of had a smile on my face because I felt great. It was a 45-minute operation and, like I said, they just cleaned it up. They didn't have to reconstruct or re-patch the whole thing. So it's all good. I just have a few more holes in the shoulder."
LOOK IT UP: We wondered if AC stood for something. It does, McNaul assured. "But I can't pronounce it," he went on. "They told me it wasn't very important. I can still punch and hit and bench press without a lot of pain, which is what we wanted."
FOR THE RECORD: Acromioclavicular. That is what AC stands for and so it is with good reason that McNaul cannot pronounce it.
LET'S PLAY: McNaul could neither run nor lift immediately after his operation, but was cleared to resume normal activity just before the 'Cats broke for their spring vacation. "That night I hit the treadmill and started getting after it," he remembered and that only continued after he and Paige McMenamin, a former 'Cat lacrosse player, landed in Key Largo to grab some sun.
"She put me through some of their conditioning work," McNaul now went on. "We had to be a little creative down there. We didn't have the same facilities we have here. But it helps when you've got a coach barking in your ear."
And how creative were they?
"One day we went to a little gym next to where we were staying and it was shut. So we're sitting there in the parking lot and I say, 'I know how to do our dynamic warm-up.' And she says, 'Well, I know some conditioning work that'll get you a good drip going.' I ended up doing lunges and split jumps and a jumping circuit until I'm hands-on-my-knees, doubled-over and seeing stars. She really kicked my butt."
That all happened in the parking lot?
"We did it in the parking lot, yeah. So if you were driving by, it might of looked kind of weird, this little 110-pound girl yelling at this big linebacker. But it was fun. It kept it interesting and kept me motivated.
And how did he feel being back on the field again?
"It felt good. Obviously it was sloppy, not just for me, but for everybody on our defense. But, man, it's like a lightening bolt being back on this field. It comes over you. It's Big Ten football and it's a dream come true. Being away from it, I was away from it for only three of four practices before we left, but that's enough to remind me of how special it is to be out here."
HE KNOWS. OH, DOES HE KNOW: Quarterback Dan Persa is hardly idle this spring. He lifts and works further on his strength and watches more film than ever and religiously rehabs the Achilles he tore last fall. But, during practice itself, he is a spectator and that, he admits, "I don't like. Obviously, I'd rather be out there with them. But it's definitely a learning experience just stepping back, telling them what they're doing wrong, doing right. It's a good experience, but obviously I really don't like it that much."
He does that coaching, he now goes on, right there on the field, right after one unit is replaced by another. For example, on Monday, "I saw a running back running into the goal line and getting tackled and not squeezing the ball. The ball was hanging out a little bit and that's when you're susceptible to getting stripped."
But is it a learning experience for him as well?
"I guess. It's tough not being out there. My whole life I've been out there, I've never really been hurt. Not being able to do stuff is a humbling experience."
Is patience one of those things he is learning?
He chuckles, knowing well that he is well known for his impatience. Then, a small smile still creasing his lips, he says: "A little bit, a little bit. But I'm not very patient."
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