AUSTIN, Texas -- Despite it all, Fozzy Whittaker has never lost hope that he’ll play in the NFL someday.
When his right knee buckled, his ACL and MCL tore and his Texas career came to an all-too-abrupt ending last November against Missouri, Whittaker didn’t dwell on the damage it might do to his pro dreams.
Sure, the Longhorns’ senior tailback will admit he’s been on a roller coaster ride of emotions ever since then. At Texas’ pro day on Tuesday, though, Whittaker was all smiles.
“Right now, I’m very confident with myself and confident in the rehab work I’ve been putting in,” Whittaker said. “What I’m doing now will get me right and get back on the field as fast as possible.”
The 5-foot-10, 194-pound back couldn’t do much Tuesday. Whittaker only got off crutches five weeks ago, and he finally shed his knee brace last week. But he stepped up in his only event, the bench press, with 23 reps of 225 pounds. That met his goal -- three better than his NFL Combine performance.
He’s had March 20 circled on his calendar for a while now. He’s spent the spring in strength coach Bennie Wylie’s laboratory, rehabbing and growing stronger in as many ways as his body would permit.
Two hours of rehab every morning. Another hour of treatment in the afternoon. Too much time spent on a stationary bike. Whittaker needed this day. No matter how much he could or couldn’t do, he had to prove to NFL scouts he’s making serious progress.
“He’s put in hours and hours and hours,” Wylie said. “Even when he couldn’t do much on the lower body, he was killing everything else.
“That’s the kind of guy he is and that’s the kind of character he has. He wasn’t going to let it get him down.”
Whittaker is trying to sell himself as a running back and a kick and punt return to NFL scouts. He’ll do whatever he can to get on the field. For now, his nine games of senior film will have to do his talents justice.
And they should. Texas got plenty out of his 92 touches in 2011. With 386 rushing yards, 145 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, plus scores on two of his 10 kickoff returns, Whittaker demonstrated more than enough versatility.
He’s already lined up a meeting for next month with the New England Patriots, a franchise known for loading up on diminutive but dynamic playmakers at running back.
More meetings should follow, even if Whittaker won’t be back to full speed until the end of the summer. He hasn’t been cleared to start running or jogging yet, though his doctors tell him he is ahead of schedule in his recovery.
The fact he probably won’t be ready to play football until NFL training camps kick off will concern some of the scouts that critiqued Whittaker on Tuesday, but he already got a significant vote of confidence with his NFL Combine invite.
Only 327 draft prospects got invitations to Indianapolis. Lots of good ones, guys who will almost certainly end up on NFL rosters, got passed up. Whittaker got the golden ticket despite still being on crutches.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “And to take a slot as valuable as those slots are, obviously they think he’s got a chance. His knee is doing great and he’s doing everything right. He’s just an unbelievable story.”
Belief is everything for Whittaker right now. He’s competing with backs who finished their senior season and got more than his 18 career starts. They got their chances to shine at the combine and pro days. Still, he’s staying optimistic.
He kept his Captain America rubber band on his left wrist Tuesday while he lifted. It was a birthday present from UT lineman Tray Allen, one he hasn’t taken off since he received it.
Whittaker considers it a potent reminder. As he puts it, the fictional Steve Rogers had his doubters, too. But Whittaker's favorite superhero had the character and determination to overcome anything.
“I’ve always kept the faith and always had [the NFL] in my mind,” Whittaker said. “Whatever my mind tells me to do, that’s what I can do.
“Right now, my mind is telling me that I can get back 100 percent healthy and make a team and go from there. And that’s what I’m planning on doing.”