Six hours a day. Six or seven days a week. For almost 12 weeks.
While his teammates were practicing twice a day during training camp, Trufant was in the training room. During the preseason games, the team’s Pro Bowl cornerback – only the third corner in franchise history to earn that honor – was left to wonder when his season would eventually begin. When the regular season began, Trufant ended up on the physically-unable-to-perform list because of the same lower back problem that flared up the week training camp opened in late July.
Yes, Trufant worried that his seventh NFL season would be wasted. Yes, he is grateful that it won’t be.
“I had some long days – some long, hard, rough days,” Trufant said this week. “Not really being around the guys as much and not being on the field, it’s rough. It’s kind of a mental game that you’ve got to play with yourself.
“You’ve just got to be strong and you’ve just got to know there is some light at the end of the tunnel.”
That is the plight of injured players in the NFL. Out of sight, almost out of mind. Then they return – as Trufant did last week, when he participated in the team’s two bye-week practices; his first practices since the final minicamp in June.
But it’s not that simplistic, and definitely not that easy.
“It just felt good being out here with the guys,” Trufant said after his first practice. “Just being outside. I’ve been doing rehab for so long, it feels like I haven’t seen the sun – or the rain – for a long time. So it’s good to be outside running around for the guys.”
Sunday, Trufant will be running around covering the Cowboys’ Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton. The plan is to have Trufant play in the nickel defense, at his usual spot on the left side. On the other downs, the corners will continue to be
“Having a play run at you every 30 or 40 seconds at that position can be difficult,” is the way coach Jim Mora put it this week. “So, we need to see where he is endurance-wise. Obviously, he’s got to knock some of the rust off in terms of his technique, but he’s doing that, and he’s worked hard.”
Trufant isn’t concerned about his role in this next step in what has been a long, arduous rehab; he’s just relieved to be making it.
“You miss the locker room atmosphere, the joking around with the guys. You miss fighting hard with the guys who are out there sweating and everybody is giving it their all,” Trufant said. “You just miss that kind of family-type feel when you’re away and you’re not really a part of it.
“It makes it tough.”
Trufant remains on PUP, where his name has been listed since training camp began. That will change when he is added to the active roster.
“I’m very anxious,” he said. “I haven’t played in a long time. It’s going to be good to put the uniform on and go out there and fight with the guys.”
While it was Trufant who had to do the work to get back, others guided him along his road to recovery: Trainer Sam Ramsden and his staff; strength and conditioning coach Mike Clark and his staff; team doctors Ed Khalfayan and Stan Herring; and Rick Celebrini, the same Vancouver, B.C., specialist who helped QB
“Sammy’s the real hero in this one,” Clark said.
But Clark also did his part, and he compares Trufant’s ordeal to taking a test in high school or college.
“Did you ever go into a test and you knew you weren’t prepared? How did you feel about that test?” he said. “But if you know you’ve done the right things and you’re prepared it’s, ‘OK, let’s go. I’m ready for the test.’
“This was a test Tru had to take that he’d never been through before.”
Not a pop quiz. Not even a mid-term. This was months of everything from learning how to stand and walk properly, to strengthening the core of his body, to trying to maintain his cardiovascular conditioning.
“This was a different deal for him, and it was hard,” Clark said. “But he’s such a phenomenal athlete and he’s such joy to work with. Everybody pulls for him.”
A typical day of rehab for Trufant began at 6 or 7 a.m. What he did each day would vary. The objective did not.
“The main goal was to get back, so that was always in the back of my mind – I’ve got to work hard even though I’m waking up early,” he said. “I’m working hard. I’m grinding.”
And battling the obvious self doubt.
“I don’t know how you fight it, it’s going to happen anyway,” Trufant said. “You’re always frustrated if you can’t play, and you’re frustrated when you can’t do exactly what you want to do. You’ve got to fight through the pain and tell yourself that things are going to get better.”