Even now, six months removed from suffering an Achilles injury and without any remaining uncertainty of whether or not he’ll play when Ohio State takes the field to open the season against Nebraska on Oct. 24, the determination in Master Teague’s words jumps out.
He leaves no doubt. One way or another, he never planned to miss time. None whatsoever.
Running backs coach Tony Alford says he isn’t quite sure whether Teague could be on the field for 60 or 70 plays at this point. But Teague believes that even if the season had started on Aug. 31 as originally scheduled, he “would have been 100 percent” healthy and ready to play in the opener.
Alford says he’s “very surprised and happy” that Teague got back to full health so quickly. Even for top-of-the-line athletes, Achilles injuries can be devastating. They’ve wiped out careers before and left players as lesser versions of themselves.
Yet Teague’s belief didn’t flicker. He carried out what Ryan Day predicted by attacking his rehab. The redshirt sophomore tailback didn’t even go home to Tennessee when everybody else did in the offseason. Instead, he woke up each morning to take care of his treatment and spent hours working on his Achilles in the James Crane Sports Medicine Institute.
“He's so into his faith and never wavered in his belief system that he'd fine and be back,” Alford said on Tuesday. “Just the way he attacked it. When everybody else decided to go home, away from Columbus, he on the other handed decided to stay here, stay put. Kind of put himself in his one-bedroom apartment and went to work. Never complained. Just whatever he could do, plus some, was his attitude.”
As of this week, Teague doesn’t have any Achillies issues even after enduring strenuous practices.
“I've been feeling good,” Teague said. “No worries.”
Such a rehab process – even one this successful – has proven laborious to other football players. Given the pandemic, this was particularly lonely for Teague, a strong-minded third-year running back in line to potentially start this fall. He spent the entirety of it rehabbing in Columbus and didn’t even have a chance to go with Harry Miller on a planned trip to Nicaragua in March.
Initially, when the injury happened on March 2 during the first practice of spring camp, Teague didn’t even know something had gone wrong with his Achilles. All he knew was that “something was up.” He couldn’t put weight on his foot or walk regularly.
As someone expected – both internally and externally – to take control of the starting running back spot vacated by J.K. Dobbins, the timing felt especially poor.
“I was just in shock at the time,” Teague said. “Just in shock at the time.”
Shock eventually passed and reality set in. He had a long road ahead.
However, Teague has a knack for finding the positivity in everything. He can turn an unfortunate situation into an opportunity to learn as well as anybody else. So that’s what he did – even if, as he says with a laugh, he wasn’t excited about it.
“It was definitely another chance to grow as a person, as a man, as a player and continue to build disciplines in my life to help me with certain things down the road,” Teague said. “So definitely I felt like the Lord was definitely with me throughout the time and that I was going to be able to play this season and I'm grateful that we're having one. A little delayed, of course, but nonetheless I feel good and blessed to have gone through it. Definitely, at the time when it happened, I didn't want to go through it. But I feel like everything happens for a reason, so definitely think it was a good experience for me just growing.”
The fruits of the process await when he and his fellow Buckeyes get back onto the field to start the season in two-and-a-half weeks. When they finally reach kickoff, Teague legitimately believes onlookers will see a different version of him.
He views himself as a “way better player” than he was prior to his injury, pointing to the ability to “kind of restart and rebuild” his body and the mechanics of it that he didn’t have the prior offseason.
“Last year, I wasn't my full self as a running back, I don't think, even though I did decent,” the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Teague said. “I didn't get the agility that I would like to have got and have gotten in offseason because I dealt with some things during that time too, as far as my body.”
Teague will get to show what improvements he thinks he's made on Oct. 24 when the Buckeyes take the field. After accumulating 789 rushing yards and four touchdowns while averaging 5.8 yards per carry in 2019, he will enter into what offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson predicted will be a 50-50 split in touches with Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon. Alford neither confirmed nor denied the shared approach between tailbacks, preferring to not give anything else away about the game plan on Tuesday, but it’s a reasonable approach with both backs on the roster.
One thing Alford and Teague agree on? By the time the season gets underway, the third-year tailback will be at full speed.
“If we played tomorrow, he'd play,” Alford said.
And that’s what really matters.
Unlike sophomore tailback Marcus Crowley, who experienced what Alford described as a “minor setback” in his recovery from a torn ACL, Teague blew through his in enviable speed. No difficult hiccups or unforeseen hurdles along the way. He stayed the course and should soon see the rewards of the work and perseverance.
In a manner so quick that it even surprised his own position coach, Teague put himself right back in line to co-carry the load in the backfield.