PULLMAN – Day one dawned, and junior Dwight Tardy treated the opening minutes of the Washington State University fall football camp as a chance to get reacquainted.
Except it wasn’t with handshakes, or catcalls. It was with the same tireless work ethic and boundless energy that made him a popular figure on the Cougars’ offense last season.
That was sorely missed, too, after Tardy tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee during the final steps of a 51-yard touchdown gallop in WSU’s 27-7 victory over UCLA on Oct. 27.
Four days later, an MRI confirmed the team’s worst fears – a severe knee injury that would require reconstructive surgery.
On Tuesday, he bounced around like the Tardy of old, ready to assume full-time ball-toting duties as the team’s first-string tailback.
“First day was great. It was like being a kid again,” he said boastfully, with a smile to back it up. “No aches and pains. After practice, it was a little sore, but nothing ice can’t handle.”
It will be a tenuous countdown – after Tuesday, 25 days remain until the season opener against Oklahoma State – to see if Tardy can, once again, become a workhorse running back.
Tardy says it’s not an issue.
His position coach, former WSU running back Steve Broussard, and the staff is taking a more cautious approach.
“You have to pace him,” Broussard said. “He is a guy that is going to try and push the limit, and we have to be careful with him.
“We’ve got to be smart, and he’s got to be smart and understand, we’re going to get him in there and get his pops.”
Tardy issued the first big surprise Tuesday by not sporting a protective brace to support the left knee.
“I’m surprised,” Broussard said. “It was his choice. He feels he’s stabilized enough not to worry about it.”
Yet Broussard said he’ll use a mental checklist to gauge Tardy’s comeback. At the top of the list? Range of motion.
“We did a couple of drills today, and he was dragging (the knee),” Broussard said. “As we move forward with it, we’ll see how he does with certain movements, and how he becomes comfortable with it.”
Tardy said work on an underwater treadmill this spring and early summer, combined with running, has gotten his knee to full strength. He still has treatments on the knee twice a day.
“I’m good, and healed up,” he said.
One-hundred players reported to camp Tuesday. The first- and second-stringers (54) had their Crimson practice at 9 a.m., while the other reserves and newcomers (46) worked out in the Gray practice at 2:30 p.m. First-year coach Paul Wulff noticed some players had trouble sustaining focus and effort for two hours in temperatures that reached the mid-90s. “Their heads were swimming a little bit,” Wulff said. “The first day always creates a little sluggishness because they’re thinking more than they normally would.” ... The biggest injury concern so far is at punter. Sophomore Reid Forrest was on crutches, wearing a protective boot on his left foot. He cracked a bone in his ankle in July, and had surgery on it. If Forrest is not ready for the first game, Wulff said backup quarterback Dan Wagner or placekicker Nico Grasu would likely take the spot. ... Defensive end Jesse Feagin, who saw action in 10 games last season, is academically ineligible but worked out in the afternoon practice Tuesday. ... The dean of WSU assistants, receivers coach Mike Levenseller, is beginning his 17th season with the program after a tumultuous offseason in which he was one of the few retained by the new coaching staff. “I figured he’d have a big change in personality, and that he’d be upset, but he stayed level-headed and positive about how it would work out,” said J.T. Levenseller, his son and WSU’s No. 4 quarterback. ... Wulff said a new strength and conditioning coach to replace Rob Oviatt would likely be on campus by Friday.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442