It has not yet been five months since Azeem Victor tried to hobble to the sideline, instead sat back down on the Husky Stadium turf, then watched trainers put his broken right leg in an air cast before driving him from the field on a medical cart.
It didn’t look good, and indeed the injury — sustained Nov. 12 in a 26-13 loss to USC — ended Victor’s season. But it wasn’t nearly as severe as originally feared: his leg was fractured, yes, but it was a clean break. Surgery was simple. As gnarly-looking leg injuries go, this one, doctors told Victor, actually wasn’t that bad.
“Everybody had a positive mindset about it,” Victor said. “We knew that I’d be on my feet in just a matter of time.”
So there he was on Wednesday morning, sprinting to greet unsuspecting running back Ralph Kinne with a two-handed shove as he caught a short pass during UW’s second practice of the spring. The impact knocked Kinne to the ground. This was not a live tackling period.
Never miss a local story.
In fact, the Huskies aren’t even in pads yet. These early workouts are helmet-and-shorts affairs. But Victor can be forgiven if he’s eager to hit somebody again, even if his layoff wound up being shorter than many might have feared on that November night at Husky Stadium.
“It feels wonderful to be back,” Victor said Wednesday. “I’m back with my guys. I never felt like I wasn’t part of the team, but now being around these guys and being able to move around with them, being in every drill with them, it feels great, man.”
He’s healthy and participating fully in practice so far, though Victor is noticeably skinner than the 6-foot-3, 230-pound menace who earned first-team all-Pac-12 honors last season despite playing only nine games. Victor said he’s currently at about 225 pounds with a goal of 235, though his weight dipped near 200 pounds after surgery.
“Right after surgery, it was right back to rehabbing and getting this thing going and getting out on my feet as fast as possible,” Victor said. “Since the break, I knew it wasn’t anything serious. It was nothing I can’t bounce back from. I just stuck to that mindset, that approach, and started my rehab.”
Watching UW’s College Football Playoff loss to Alabama from the sideline last season “broke my heart,” Victor said, but he tried to embrace his role as a cheerleader.
“Really I was just out there to cheer them on and soak in the whole experience,” he said, “because that’s my dream to be there. That’s the goal.”
Victor said he didn’t give much consideration to entering this year’s NFL draft, even before he broke his leg. As a fifth-year senior, he will again team with close friend and fellow fifth-year senior Keishawn Bierria to anchor a linebacker corps that should be among the Pac-12’s best.
For now, he’s simply relishing the opportunity to be on the field again.
“I feel natural,” he said. “That’s why I’m on the field — because I’m able to feel natural at this point. It’s still not fully all the way there, but that takes time. As long as I feel good … I know where I need to stop, and those points, so I’m doing pretty good.”