Ralph Bolden hopes to be ready to play this season so long as his rehab is successful and he doesn’t – well, he won’t even say it.
But you know what was he’s talking about. That thing that happened to the part of his body that connects the upper and lower parts of his leg. More specifically, that injury that can happen to the tiny ligament that allows, say, a running back to move laterally. That thing that has happened three times to Bolden in his football career. Yes, that thing.
You may not know, however, what he was talking about if all you had to base your guess on was the way he was moving in practice on Tuesday.
“Right knee to chest!” barked a coach during team stretching and, in a move that would make anyone with knowledge of Bolden’s medical history cringe, he brought that braced injured body part to his chest.
He wore a no-contact green jersey and was off in the corner doing lighter drills with a handful of other players while the team went through the first full-pad practice of the season. Occasionally, he looked a bit slower in getting up or sitting down than some of his teammates. But overall, he moved smoothly.
“It feels pretty good,” he said. “I gotta take care of the swelling and everything. When it swells up, that’s the only time it hurts.”
Bolden remembers each time it happened well. His former high school coach, Rich McWhorter, remembers the first time vividly because it happened when Bolden played for him at Charlton County High School.
The play was a sweep to the left, McWhorter recalled on the phone Wednesday afternoon. The only thing between Bolden and the end zone was his own blocking wide receiver. He made the slightest cut to the left, fell down and rolled over. Then he just sat there for a minute.
Later that week, the MRI came back showing that what is now unsayable had happened, but that didn’t matter much to Bolden at the time. He was as determined to play then as he is now – he said on Tuesday that if this season doesn’t work out, he’ll apply for a sixth season.
“He must have a high pain tolerance or whatever,” McWhorter said, “because it was one of those things where he said, ‘Coach, I think I can play.’ And I said, ‘Not when you’re going to Purdue, you’re not.’”
The next two sidelining events happened similarly. No contact – just Bolden making a cut. The second one was just before the 2010 season in practice during a seven-on-seven drill. The third one happened this past season in the third quarter against IU.
The quarterback threw Bolden the ball and he was running down the sideline when he went to cut back. Then came the “pop.”
“I mean, I was praying it wasn’t that,” he said. “You know what I mean? I was able to walk it off a little bit, but they diagnosed it in the locker room as a torn ACL.”
There, he said it. Was it a slip? Maybe not. Because for Bolden, there are crazier things than tearing the same ACL three times. There’s always the possibility that it could be the other, well, let’s let him say it.
“That’d be crazy if it was another knee,” he said. “I mean, it’s crazy that it’s the same knee three times, but I just feel better about it being the same knee.”