BERKELEY, Calif. – Listening to him use terms like “Terrible Triad,” orthopedic surgeon shorthand for a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus in the same knee, it might be easy to mistake Stefan McClure for a pre-med student.
But the redshirt sophomore cornerback has no formal training.
“That’s what happens when you have a couple knee surgeries in your life,” McClure said of his newfound expertise. “I wanted to know. I wanted to make sure I knew everything I was going to be feeling and everything.”
His education came with the devastating right knee injury he suffered on Nov. 25, 2011 at Arizona State. There was the usual reconstructive surgery, followed by a microfracture procedure last May that essentially erased what progress McClure had made.
“There’s nothing I could really do about that, no rehab or anything,” McClure said. “It just takes six months for the bone marrow to come back, so that was one of those things where I had no control. I just had to sit there, couldn’t walk on it for six weeks, then start the rehab process over with building the muscle back. I feel like if I didn’t have that setback it would have been a little faster recovery.”
There was a chance McClure could have returned for the final month of the 2012 season, but with a losing record guaranteed and possibility for further injury exacerbated by his lack of conditioning, the risk did not match any potential reward. Instead, he put all his energy into returning for spring practice.
So far, that plan seems to be working out. McClure has been more active than expected, going through team periods and doing more work that head coach Sonny Dykes had indicated, looking every bit the player he was prior to getting hurt.
The only indications of the injury are a metal brace and an occasional break to avoid a setback. New defensive backs coach Randy Stewart is relying on McClure not to overexert himself, but both understand there is a fine line between caution and hypochondria.
“There is no limitation,” Stewart said. “He goes as hard as he can and when his recovery starts to wear out, he knows. ‘Coach, it’s time,’ he’ll take his break.
“But there is no holding back. We’ll sit you down, give you a rest. If that’s a day off, great. If that’s a period off, great. Otherwise no holds barred.”
“I got to find that fine line of getting all the reps I can, but if my knee gets sore, I got to listen to it and not play through it because it is only February,” McClure added. “We got to be ready for August.”
That might be harder said than done. McClure lights up when talking about his return, but when the subject shifts to the year he missed, there is visible frustration in his body language and obvious disappointment in his tone.
“I hated it,” McClure said. “It was the longest I have gone without playing football since I was like six years old. It was tough just to be out there watching those guys and just believing that I out there to help in any way, whether it was practice or during the game.”
As he works to find the new threshold for his body, specifically trying to recapture his explosiveness breaking on the ball, McClure says he has no expectations for playing time. Trying to build Cal back into a winning program is his main goal.
But this is the same McClure that in his second-ever start held USC wide receiver Robert Woods to five receptions for 36 yards, the second-lowest totals in his All-America campaign, leading Stewart to aim considerably higher.
“If he can mentally develop and technically develop, there is nothing we can’t accomplish,” Stewart said.
“The sky is the limit.”
Not bad for a wannabe pre-med major.
Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.