Pankey Plows Toward Fall Return From Achilles Injury
And the Oregon State linebacker remembers the drill, the third one of this particular winter conditioning session. Sprint forward. Back pedal. Sprint forward again.
"We had done a couple of those and I went to plant to push off (to go forward) and I heard a snap," Pankey said. "For a split-second I wanted to turn around and cuss out whoever kicked me."
But there was no one there. And it took him only a second more to realize what happened. The snap was the sound of his Achilles' tendon giving way. The sound of his senior season possibly going away with it.
"I tried to move, but I couldn't and I remember thinking, 'Well, I just tore my Achilles.' "
The disappointment followed quickly. It was worse than the actual pain from the ruptured tendon.
Pankey was training that morning in preparation for his senior season, one in which he is supposed to be counted upon as a full-time starting linebacker for the first time in his career.
Last year, he played in a platoon situation at outside linebacker with Dwight Roberson. This year, it was going to be Pankey and Roberson, both starting. Roberson sat with him on the training table immediately following the injury.
"We're sidekicks. A lot of people think we have a competitive thing, but really, we just want to play side by side and that was really the worst thing. This was going to jeopardize that. This was not what the plan was supposed to be," Pankey said.
Oregon State coach Mike Riley got the news in his office and made his way down to the training room to see Pankey and he was already calculating the months of rehabilitation and wondering if one of the most popular, well-respected players on his team might lose the 2010 season.
"Keith has really taken advantage of his college experience. He's involved on campus, everybody knows him and he's a very good football player," Riley said. "Right away, after his injury, I was talking to him and he had that typical Keith Pankey optimism about being ready for the season."
The first discussions with doctors laid out a a six-to-seven month recovery for Pankey, who responded, "No way."
"I had to force myself to stomach the idea of that," Pankey said.
Pankey knows this drill. His father, Irv, who played in the NFL for the Rams and the Colts, twice torn his Achilles during his career.
With surgery, the doctor told Pankey that first day, he might be able to cut that recovery time down to four to five months. That was the best-case scenario.
"I had surgery the next day," Pankey said.
Pankey is on track for a speedy return. He expects to be ready for practice when fall camp begins in August.
He kept his upper body strong after surgery, working in the weight room. And now he's tackling his lower body and his injured leg.
Pankey has been out of his boot for more than a month. He's working to strengthen his weakened calf muscle, walking to school every day from his home, which is a 10-minute drive from campus.
He's spending an hour and a half a day in rehab and working in the weight room.
Following surgery, Pankey spent six weeks on crutches. Getting rid of those was one step. Putting on a shoe for the first time was practically a thrill.
Riley said he will be cautious with Pankey.
"Every step of the way, he's done everything he can," Riley said. "He's the type of guy where you've got to say, 'Slow down and don't push'. One of goals of any injury is no setbacks."
Pankey said he looks back on Feb. 10 now as "almost a birthday."
"I had to start over again," Pankey said. "Now that day is special to me in a good and a bad way."