ATHENS - Looking back, Tramel Terry thinks he should have seen it coming. Five days before the Shrine Bowl last December, he visited a shriner's hospital along with other high school all-stars. At one point, the doctors wanted to simulate knee operation, and they needed a volunteer patient.
"They picked me," Terry said.
Five days later, Terry tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of the all-star game. And eight months later he's still struggling to get back.
Terry had hoped to be healthy enough for the season opener at Clemson. But on Friday he expressed his doubts in very candid and introspective comments with the media. There was no false bravado about his recovery, just frustration.
"I'll be honest: I'm not ready at all," he said. "Hopefully I find my way on special teams, and contribute like that."
Even with three more weeks until the opener, he isn't optimistic he can help the offense.
"Receiver is a hard position. I'm just being realistic," Terry said. "I've just gotta focus and relax. I gotta be smart, and be honest. I don't think so. I've gotta feel like myself - which I don't. I've gotta build confidence in the coaches right now, because they don't want to put me out there if I'm not ready. I've just gotta keep being smart, and keep working."
Terry enrolled early at Georgia and sat out spring practice, and was hoping to be a full-go this preseason. He's been in a regular jersey at practice, as opposed to a non-contact jersey. But Terry said there's been "little stuff" in practice that's a result of the surgery.
"When I catch the ball and tuck it, keep it to my body. Let the ball in, don't run my routes short. And sometimes when I cut I really don't put too much pressure on my leg. You know, everything," he said, then laughed. "I've just gotta keep working, like they keep saying. That's all I can do. Everybody sits me down, and they praise me, say I'm doing great. Every time I make a play everybody cheers. It's a great feeling. All I've gotta do is keep doing that, and everybody will have my back.
"I've just gotta be willing to learn, and willing to be patient."
But that doesn't mean he wants to redshirt. Even if he only plays special teams this year, he would rather play.
"Or I might be ready, who knows. I might one day wake up and be my old self," Terry said. "That's just one year. I've got three more years ahead of me, and in three years I'm gonna be the leader of this team. So an extra year, that's nothing. I'll play a role on this team, and help it win a national championship."
Terry was one of Georgia's top recruits this year, considered by many the top player in the state of South Carolina. A dynamic talent at Goose Creek High School, where he rushed for 841 yards and had 792 receiving yards as a senior, he was named Mr. Football last year. He was also one of the easiest choices to the Shrine Bowl, which matches the top players between North Carolina and South Carolina.
He still has a copy of the X-ray of his cartilage from that fake knee surgery, which turned out to be an omen.
"I felt like something was gonna happen," Terry said Friday. "I thought I was done. I mean I just won Mr. Football for South Carolina, and I'm going to Georgia early. This is the best time of my life. ... It really eats me up. That's why I'm so pressed to get back."
Georgia may still hope to use Terry this year on offense, perhaps even early in the season. As Terry said, he may wake up one day and all those cuts are smooth, no limits on his route-running.
But for now, it's a gut-wrenching challenge.
"This has been the worst time of my life, just trying to fight, and just keep my head straight," Terry said. "Because I'm not used to being hurt. I'm used to making plays. It's almost like I'm taking in the fact that I'm hurt, and you're not supposed to think like that. You're supposed to play, and have fun with it. And so that's what I have to do."