Bruce Adrine was enjoying his junior season with the Bulldogs. A relatively unknown player last year, Adrine broke out this fall, leading the team in tackles for a loss with five, including two sacks in three games at defensive end.
But it all came to a grinding halt during practice while preparing for the Arkansas game Sept. 26.
"Someone got blocked into me, and I felt something pop in my right knee," Adrine said. "I knew something was seriously wrong."
He was right. Adrine not only tore his anterior cruciate ligament -- a season-ending injury in itself -- but also his medial cruciate ligament.
Adrine is the second Bulldog starter to fall victim to an ACL tear.
Linebacker Boss Bailey tore the ACL in his right knee covering a kickoff in the season opener against Georgia Southern. Bailey will get a medical redshirt. Adrine, who redshirted his first season at Georgia, won't.
The physical pain of an ACL tear isn't too troubling until after surgery. In fact, the moment the injury occurs doesn't cause victims too much pain at all.
Former Bulldog running back Olandis Gary played an entire quarter this season with the Denver Broncos after tearing his ACL during a game against the St. Louis Rams. Sophomore Charles Grant walked off the field under his own power after tearing his ACL in last season's game with Georgia Tech.
But mentally, the pain of an ACL tear can linger for months.
"I was crushed when it happened," Adrine said. "And it kills me to this day."
It's not just losing the opportunity to play in seven or eight more games that bothers Adrine and Bailey. It's the disappointment of not being able to contribute to Georgia's win over Tennessee that dilutes the excitement of a victory. It's watching defense coordinator Gary Gibbs produce a successful defensive scheme, only to see the Xs and Os on the drawing board and not on the field.
And it's the long road of rehabilitation that lies ahead for two 20-year olds trying to reach the potential they grasped for such a short period of time this season.
Five months of nothing but continuous exercises on strengthening and regaining flexibility in the knee.
"Rehab is very hard, especially when you're already dealing with the pain of not being able to play," said Grant, who returned to the field this fall after working all winter and spring on his injured knee. "But you can't let doubt creep into your mind. You have to remember, this is for your future as well. That knee has to get better, and it takes some very hard work to do it."
Adrine already has started some preliminary rehabilitation before he undergoes knee surgery today at St. Mary's Hospital. He's working on rebuilding his quadriceps muscle, which has weakened while he's been on crutches.
Swelling still occasionally occurs, which requires Adrine to keep the knee iced down.
It takes about four to six weeks for the knee to heal after surgery. After that, Adrine and Bailey will work on straight leg raises before moving on to leg extensions and curls.
"When you fix an ACL injury, you take a ligament from another part of the body and put it in the knee, kind of like taking a plant clipping and putting it in a pot," said Ron Courson, Director of Sports Medicine at Georgia. "So you've got to build back the blood supply before you do any strenuous exercises."
For the next month, Adrine and Bailey will spend a lot of time in the water -- Courson is a big fan of aquatic exercises -- and riding the stationary bike. Before the end of the year, both athletes will begin aggressive running, eventually working up to light cutting as tolerated. By March, both players should be fully healthy again, but will not participate in spring practice. Instead, Adrine and Bailey will rejoin team workouts during summer camp.
"You want to get them back healthy again, but more importantly, safely," Courson said. "We use the ladder system -- one rung at a time."
But it isn't the rehabilitation that's on Adrine's mind right now. It's the part where he goes under the knife that has Adrine feeling a bit uneasy.
"I'm a little nervous about surgery," he said. "Plus, the trainers have been joking with me because it's on Friday the 13th."
Fortunately, Adrine has Grant and Bailey there to support him through the operation -- and to make sure no black cats run past him and he isn't wheeled under a ladder.
"He's going to be hurting after the operation" Grant said. "But he can't let that stop him from working hard to get it better. He's a tough guy, he'll be all right."