When Noah Brown trotted onto the practice field Thursday for Ohio State's fourth spring practice of 2016, he did something he had not been able to for seven months.
"Today was the first day I did some top end routes, some change of direction stuff," Brown said after practice. "I feel good. Definitely improving."
Brown suffered a horrific injury Aug. 26 to his left leg, knocking him out for the duration of the 2015 football season — one he was set to be a vital part of for the Buckeye passing game. Now, he said he sits at "60 or 65 percent" headfirst in rehab.
The fracture put a hard stop to Brown's development in Columbus. He came to campus via New Jersey as a member of Ohio State's 2014 recruiting class and saw action in 13 games as a true freshman, though he entered college at 245 pounds. Brown worked his tail off and cut weight all the way down to 222 by fall camp last year, but then went up for a pass and "came down kind of funny."
“I won't say I was ever depressed, but when you take something away that you love, it hurts a lot. You don't know really where to put those emotions into it or how to handle it.”– Noah Brown
"It obviously hurt a lot. I put a lot hard work in to get to that point," Brown said. "It was kind of just a freak accident."
The injury put a strain on Ohio State's receiver room and offense as a whole. Urban Meyer and Kerry Coombs spoke glowingly about his development and the challenge he presented down the field against defensive backs.
"Noah Brown is a phenomenal player," Coombs reiterated Thursday. "He's back, so I'm not worried about last year. I'm on to this year. He's playing. He's going to be a great player. He's hard to cover. He's a big, strong buck who can catch the ball. He is a tough dude."
Brown said he can't change direction and cut out of routes, but can sprint full speed. He also underwent another surgery halfway through last season to clear out scar tissue from his leg.
Now, he waits for nature to take its course while he works his tail off to get back to where he was.
"It's the worst. It's real hard to be patient," Brown said. "You come out here, you see a guy, they're running a route and you just want to be like ... man."
"I miss that feeling to run a route and get open. It's going to take time. I trust the process."
Brown remains "100 percent confident" he'll be ready to help Ohio State come Sept. 3 against Bowling Green in the season opener. He and Corey Smith, another wide receiver who broke his leg during the Indiana game in October, along with Curtis Samuel (foot) are all on the mend together from injuries.
But Brown is in a class above those guys at the position.
"I feel like personally he was one of the best receivers last year," Terry McLaurin said. "Him and Mike (Thomas) were pretty much unguardable last year."
That's why it was so hard for him to stand and watch because his body kept him out.
"I won't say I was ever depressed, but when you take something away that you love, it hurts a lot," Brown said. "You don't know really where to put those emotions into it or how to handle it."
Brown now sits at 229 pounds, and though the injury "was crushing" and he didn't know how to handle it mentally, he is taking the proper steps to return to form.
"I'm already on my way there right now," Brown said. "Just because I had the injury doesn't mean I can't put in the hard work and can't get back to where I was at. I can't forget what I did to get there and just improve on that."