Trey Adams gets it.
The Huskies’ preseason All-American left tackle, who missed 16 games the past two seasons due to injuries, understands – perhaps better than most – why Andrew Luck abruptly quit football.
During his seven-year career, the 29-year-old Indianapolis Colts quarterback suffered torn cartilage in two ribs, a torn abdomen, a lacerated kidney, a concussion, a torn labrum and an ankle injury.
Citing mental fatigue, Luck, a Pro Bowler who had his best season last year, walked away from a career that potentially would have paid him $500 million over the next decade.
While the sports world wrestles with the impact the decisions of Luck and Rob Gronkowski, the former New England tight-end star who retired in March at age 29, will have on the NFL, Adams reflects on the players’ health while he attempts to reclaim a promising career derailed by injuries.
“People still have lives to live,” the 22-year-old UW redshirt senior said. “This is what we do, but it’s not who we are. Those guys still have stuff to do and families to take care of. If they can’t walk, can’t smile or do anything like that, then it’s not good.
“Those guys have made millions of dollars, so they’re fine. But if there’s a point where I have to walk away from football, I’m totally fine with that. I have a lot of stuff I like to do besides football.”
The 6-foot-8, 314-pound Wenatchee native is an avid outdoorsman who loves to fish and hunt for ducks and pheasant.
“Last year, I shot my first deer,” Adams said while flashing a grin. “And I ate every piece of it.”
The big man also enjoys spending time with his family and grilling. His go-to dish is a ribeye steak that’s cooked medium-rare with asparagus and mashed potatoes on the side. The point is, football doesn’t solely define Adams.
And yet, he’s in love with the sport so much that he devoted the better part of the past two years to make it all the way back for Saturday’s season opener when No. 13 Washington hosts FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington.
“It’s definitely been tough,” Adams said. “There were some hard times that I went through, but I really kept grinding. … I really looked at it as I got hurt. There’s nothing I could do about it. It’s a part of the game. Everyone out there knows it. You can get hurt at any point, and that’s the sad truth about football.”
Following a breakout sophomore season in 2016 when he was chosen first-team All-Pac-12, Adams suffered a season-ending ACL tear in 2017 and missed the final six games.
Before the 2018 season opener, Adams underwent surgery to repair a bulging disk in his back and sat out 10 games. He returned for the final four contests and played with a significant amount of discomfort.
“Coming back has been such a hard journey for me,” Adams said. “A really hard journey. Not feeling totally awesome last year at the end of the year, but still playing. I feel like I’ve really gotten back to really good technique and having a lot of fun and being able to cut loose and not worry about stepping wrong or any knick-knacky pain. That’s been the biggest part for me, just feeling 100 percent and being able to not worry about my back or my knee.”
It’s been a painstaking and emotional comeback for Adams that tested his resolve and commitment.
“At times you’re like, ‘I don’t know I can do this,’ but in the back of your mind, you’re like, ‘I’m going to be fine,’ ” he said. “I’m sure there was a point where I was like really not feeling good, but we have a great strength staff and recovery team. I always kept faith, and I’m back and ready to have some fun.”
Fun for Adams means mauling opposing defensive linemen like he did three years ago when Washington set UW offensive records following a 12-2 season. Record-setters Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin are gone, but Adams believes new quarterback Jacob Eason and running back Salvon Ahmed are ready to step into starring roles.
“When Eason is rolling and the O-line is rolling and we’re all on the same page, we can do a lot of things,” Adams said. “With a big guy like that back there, he can toss it anywhere. And then a guy like Salvon and Chico (McClatcher) and those dudes who are speedy dudes, it feels like we can do a lot of stuff.
“I’m seeing little flashes of that. It’s hard to simulate in practice because it’s not full speed all the time, but there are times when we do go live and it’s like, all right, we can do some stuff. That’s been the most fun for me is seeing all of these guys blossom.”
The same goes for Adams.
“I’m glad that he’s back, he’s in good spirits, and he’s feeling good and he’s moving good,” said Washington senior center Nick Harris, a preseason All-American and Adams’ roommate. “He’s building every day back to 100%. He looks pretty damn good right now.”
Adams and the Huskies attribute his successful recovery to a positive approach to rehab.
“Coming back from injury is certainly a challenge, and it’s one of those things in sports that makes you stronger and something we all have to deal with,” said Bush Hamdan, UW offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “The real challenge is keeping your mind right and staying positive. I think that has an effect on your recovery.
“Trey did a great job with all of that. He was fantastic. Did a great job with our trainers and is ready to go.”
Adams, who is projected as one of the top offensive linemen in the 2020 NFL draft, needs to avoid another major injury if he’s going to be a first-round pick like former UW offensive tackle Kaleb McGary, who was taken No. 31 by the Atlanta Falcons in April.
To stay grounded, Adams is relishing each day of his final season at Washington.
“Every day it’s getting closer to the end, but that’s not what I should be thinking about,” he said. “I should be thinking about getting better and playing and having fun.
“Going through your last year has been the most fun I’ve had just because it’s my last one. It feels different. It feels good.”
And how would Adams like to end his last year at UW?
“That’s a good question,” he said. “Winning all of our games. Being a team leader and having fun.”