Less than a year after tearing his ACL, wide receiver looks just like he did before his knee surgery
RENTON — The scar across Nate Burleson’s knee is the most noticeable residue of his star-crossed 2008 season.
Burleson wears no brace on his left knee, not even a neoprene sleeve. Eleven months after suffering a torn knee ligament, Burleson has no limp and hasn’t missed a practice yet in this training camp.
The scar is just about the only reminder of the season-ending injury he suffered while running a route in the season opener. Well, the scar and the resolve that helped him take all of the doubts and uncertainty about his recovery and turn it into a comeback with its own motto.
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” ’08 was fate,” he says. “But ’09 is mine.”
Burleson, who turns 28 on Tuesday, is coming back from a year that started off bad and never got any better, the story line for so many of this city’s sporting enterprises in 2008. Now, he’s trying to get his hometown to buy into his belief in a renaissance.
“As a city, this is what we need to say and think,” he says. ” ’08 was fate, but ’09 is mine. Say it and believe. We can get it back.”
That’s the persistence and the faith that has fueled Burleson’s comeback. It’s also a reason why — less than a year after surgery — he’s on the field and looking as if nothing ever happened.
“The guy is something,” coach Jim Mora said. “He looks explosive. He looks fast.”
He looks just like he used to, the receiver who caught nine touchdowns for the Seahawks in 2007 and the only NFL player ever to return three punts more than 90 yards for touchdowns in his career.
At practice earlier this week, Burleson leapt high over cornerback Kelly Jennings, reaching back to catch a whistler of a pass from Matt Hasselbeck. It’s too soon to call this a bounce-back season, but the bounce is definitely back in his legs.
He didn’t actually go through hell to get back to this point, but he came close. He spent July in Arizona, working with a trainer twice a day, completing a comeback that started with questions of whether he would ever be the same after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“The death of your career flashes before your eyes,” Burleson said.
Athleticism has been his signature ever since he was at O’Dea High School, where he was state champion in the hurdles. When he came to the Seahawks in 2006, he was slow to adapt to the precision required in Mike Holmgren’s passing offense, but that athleticism allowed him to make his mark as a punt returner.
He felt poised for a breakout season last year, coming off a season in which he led Seattle in touchdown catches, and he was the only healthy veteran receiver when the regular season began. He didn’t make it to the fourth quarter of that first game. He went to make a cut, and the leg gave way. The season was over, the uncertainty just beginning.
“There are days where you want to doubt yourself,” Burleson said. “There are days where all you’re thinking about is not being who you were.”
He worried about the spring in his step, wondered if he would become a possession receiver. At least he did for a while.
“I had to flip the script on the way I was thinking and think more positive than negative,” Burleson said. “I started to approach it as if I was a monster getting back to where I need to be.
“Right now, I’m feeling like a beast.”
Burleson’s vertical leap once measured at 42 inches. He hasn’t had his leaping ability measured, so he can’t say for sure whether every inch is back. But the bounce has returned to his step, and that’s the first step toward a bounce-back season.
It has been less than 11 months since Burleson’s injury, and the old coaching adage that a player isn’t right until his second season back from a torn ligament doesn’t seem to apply in this case.
“He seems to be defying that,” Mora said. “Nate’s different. I think it’s a credit to him and the way he worked.”
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org