For today’s reminder that the world can be a very small place, we go to the American southwest.
When Montreal Alouettes running back Brandon Whitaker, a native of Edmond, Okla., tore up his left knee in a game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders last September, he set about finding advice on how to expedite his recovery from reconstructive surgery.
It so happens Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who played college football at the University of Oklahoma and hails from Texas, where Whitaker now lives (“It was all these tornadoes, man,” he joked), was able to provide some instruction.
Peterson made one of the more miraculous knee-injury recoveries of all time in 2012, when he returned to the field just eight months after surgery to replace two ligaments – and promptly put up the best numbers of his career en route to the NFL most valuable player award.
Though Whitaker and Peterson are from the same part of the world and are contemporaries (the former is 27, the latter a year older), they aren’t especially close.
But they do share at least one mutual friend: Oakland Raiders safety Reggie Smith, who grew up with Whitaker and played college ball with Peterson.
So Smith hit up his former teammate via text message. The advice he got in return?
“Rehab, it’s a job, and you’ve to take it like a job,” Whitaker said. “You hear about those guys rehabbing eight to nine hours a day, and it’s not exaggerating at all.”
All that 9-to-5 work has paid off: Whitaker will play his first CFL game in nine months Thursday, the Als’ home opener against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Since taking over for Avon Cobourne as the Als feature back in 2011 (he rushed for nearly 1,400 yards), Whitaker has become a premier pass-blocker and an all-around backfield threat – before the injury, he had become a go-to target for quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
Though the Als found an able replacement in hulking power runner Chris Jennings – who will doubtless see a few reps on Thursday – a fit-again Whitaker changes the equation for opposing defences.
Speedy tailback Noel Devine led the Als with 58 yards in the season opener (a 38-33 win in Winnipeg), but Whitaker is a slashing, elusive runner and a more experienced pass-catcher.
Montreal had trouble keeping the Winnipeg rush away from Calvillo last week, a beefed-up running game and Whitaker’s blocking skills should help in that regard.
One might expect Als head coach Dan Hawkins to ease the five-year veteran into his new offence, although that’s no sure thing.
When it was put to him that it might be unrealistic to expect Whitaker to touch the ball 30 times in his return, Hawkins said: “Why are you guessing that?”
“We’ll see how it plays out, I think he could do it, because his conditioning is really good,” he added.
Indeed, Whitaker believes, like Peterson, he is stronger than he was before the injury.
“Back in the day, when this injury happened, the technology wasn’t the same and the rehab process wasn’t the same. The rehab place I went to [a clinic near his home in Austin, Tex.] was unbelievable,” Whitaker said. “Not only did it make my knee stronger, it made everything else stronger. It was a Pilates-based physical therapy: core strengthening, hips, everything that connects to the hips, feet, all that stuff. It’s something I’m going to do for rest of my career.”
The Baylor University product has seldom been reluctant to seek out novel treatments and approaches – he is a yoga aficionado – and now the main challenge is in getting his head right.
“Physically, I know [the knee] is stronger than it was before, but just to have that mental block of making the cut and reinjuring it – I know in my head that’s not going to happen, but it’s just constantly repetitions and knocking it out completely,” he said. “At some point, I just have to go out and play.”
It might as well be a warm July 4 evening at Percival Molson Memorial Stadium.