As I talked with Dace Richardson and Tony Moeaki at Iowa media day, I could tell finally being healthy made them happy. The former Illinois prep teammates had overcome various injuries to return for their fifth seasons.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz likes the mantra that injuries are part of the game. While we all know this fact, it makes it no easier when you see players get hurt, especially those ones that have multiple setbacks.
Moeaki missed three games this season with a high ankle sprain. Ferentz announced Tuesday that Richardson would miss the remainder of the regular season after breaking a bone in his left leg against Michigan State.
"It's similar to Tony's situation," Ferentz said. "The first thought I had was that I was hoping it wasn't his knee, for obvious reasons. I don't know what that would have meant.
"The good news was it was a different part of his anatomy. With any player that gets injured, you feel badly for them. If a guy has already been through it, it makes it that much more tough to deal with.
"But Dace knew that, too. When a player comes back from an injury, you are always aware of the fact you can get hurt again. It's the reality of the sport."
Ferentz announced last fall that Richardson's career likely would be over after he suffered a severe knee injury. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound offensive lineman proved the coach wrong by working exhaustively to return to the starting line-up this season.
Richardson missed most of the 2007 season and all of the '08 campaign with the knee injury. He had played left tackle as a true freshman and started as a sophomore. He was named a U.S. Army all-American following his senior season at Warrenville South High in Wheaton, Ill.
"It's devastating," Iowa Center Rafael Eubanks said of his roommate's recent injury. "I know it's very devastating for him. He's worked hard to get back. He took the news real hard.
"But he's a resilient guy and it sounds like it's going to be something that can heal quickly and be back for the bowl game at the minimum. He wishes he could be out here every day, especially senior day. He wants to be back for that. But the fact that he can be back for the bowl game is good for him and good for us to at least get one more game in for his career."
After missing the bulk of two seasons, there was speculation that Richardson might apply for a sixth year of eligibility after this season. That picture became muddier when the guard settled in this year and was named a mid-Season all-American by CBSsports.com.
"We have not had that talk yet," Ferentz said. "It's clearly an option for him, and it's his option. We would love to have him back. We will support his decision."
You get a sense that Richardson would be welcomed back by his teammates. He's played a leadership role this year and his injury impacted everyone on the squad.
"This is my first year playing with Dace, so guys like Raf (Eubanks) and some other guys have a little different feel for it," Tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "Seeing him back out there and how good he was doing and after what he's been through, it was hard to see that. Everyone feels terrible for him. You can only hope that he gets back in time for the bowl game."
The coaches and players do what they can to keep the injured involved with the program during their rehabilitation. It's not always an easy task.
"It's hard. You can say things, you can do things, but the bottom line is, it's just a lousy feeling," Ferentz said. "Anybody misses time with injuries, it's not that they are not part of the team, but you have that feeling when you're that individual, like I'm removed from things.
"So there's not much we can do. We try to keep the injured guys close, certainly. They missed time playing because of injuries, so I think at least the guys have gone down that road or are sensitive to it. They try to keep the guys spirits up. Tony had brought Dace a bag of fruit Sunday night, by the time I got over there. So they look out for each other and they do a good job over at their apartments and at their dorm and that type of thing, too.
"It's tough. It's a sad part about the game. It would be a great game if guys never got injured. It wouldn't be football I guess, but it would be a great game."