It was nearly one year ago that Ohio State running back Evan Pryor tore the patellar tendon in his knee, ending his redshirt freshman season before it ever began. It was the middle of fall camp, and followed a ton of positive buzz about his play to that point.
After missing his senior season of high school football due to the pandemic, and then playing just four games as a true freshman in 2021, Pryor was again going to miss an entire season of football.
Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford and head coach Ryan Day had on-field plans for Pryor in 2022, but the injury sidetracked everything. Pryor went through a difficult rehab, which saw him have to keep his leg straight for two months. He also watched his fellow running backs struggle through their own injuries last season, making his absence even more painful.
Pryor can’t get last year back, which is why his focus is on the here and now. Fall camp got underway this past Thursday, and it finally saw him back on the practice field, healthy, explosive, and appreciative.
“Amazing,” he said on Saturday when asked how it felt to be practicing again. “I’ve just been taking it in, obviously playing football, but just being out there with the guys, it feels great. It’s been a journey, so I’m just glad to be back out here.”
Missing a year of action is tough for any player, and it was no different for Pryor. There was so much excitement about what he was going to be able to provide to last year’s team, and in one wheel route in practice, that excitement turned to pain — both physical and emotional.
“It was hard, honestly. I’m gonna keep it real with y’all. It was hard,” Pryor said. “Everything I did that year, building up into when I got hurt, it was huge for me, growing up, maturing and stuff like that. It was hard having to stay at home, watch the games, having to keep my legs straight for two months. It was definitely hard, but it makes you take things like this not for granted. Now I’m out there and everything I do I’m just going hard because I know what it’s like to have it taken from you just like that.”
The rehab and recovery took about 11 months for Pryor to feel back to himself again, but even then he wasn’t fully back until he was able to prove to himself that he could get through an entire practice with no setbacks.
“It’s not so much about the injury, it’s more so about my mentality, mindset of it,” he explained. “I can tell you my first day going out there, I was scared out of my pants. Watching every step you take and thinking a lot. But going out there day two, just a lot better. I felt more comfortable and just knowing that everything’s gonna be okay. I’ve taken the right steps, done the right things throughout my whole rehab and recovery process to be able to go out there with my teammates and not have to worry about it at all.”
Part of that mental recovery is happening naturally for Pryor. That was the case on the first day of practice last week when he ran the same wheel route that he was injured on the year before.
“I didn’t even realize it until the ball was snapped. And I turned my head and I was like, ‘Oh, this is awfully familiar,'” he said. “Coach Alford knew it before I did. I got back to the huddle and he was telling me about it. I was like, ‘Yeah, it was.’ But you know, I needed that. I need stuff like that. I need to get roughed up. I need to hit the ground. I need to run wheel routes the same place I got hurt, because it’s just the situation I’m trying to put behind me so I can put my best foot forward.”
When healthy, Pryor has the ability to score from anywhere on the field. That big play can take place out of the backfield, or finding mismatches in the passing game. It can be out wide, between the tackles, over the middle, or down the sideline with a wheel route.
Even though he is back to doing what he’s done in the past, he’s not sure he’s completely back to the explosive back he was before his injury.
“I can’t really tell yet,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to let you guys know once we go live. I know it’s a different gear I have to myself when we go live and things like that. So, yeah, but honestly, these last two days I do feel like myself a lot. On wheel routes, outrunning defenders, I’ve been doing a better job. Made a big emphasis this summer on making guys miss. Something I always kept in my bag before I got injured. Coach Alford’s been with me on this too just helping me get back to my original form.”
The Buckeyes will be back on the field Monday for practice No. 4 of camp. Business will pick up later this week when full pads go on and the contact gets much faster and more furious. That will then lead to the first scrimmage of camp on Saturday. And after being sidelined for a full year, nobody is more excited about it than Evan Pryor.
“Huge. I’m looking forward to that a lot. I just want to get back out there,” he said. “There’s something about being in the locker room with the guys, you do things on the field. I don’t know, I’m just ready to show everybody what I’ve been doing for the past 12 months.”