When Jacksonville State takes the field for its annual spring workouts next month, it will have been six long months since the Gamecocks’ quarterback has been on the field.
“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Ivory said, “just because I hadn’t done anything and I’m anxious to get back and do something and see where I’m at.
“I’m more anxious now than I have been before about the spring.”
You’ll remember Ivory fractured his right fibula on a broken play in the second quarter of the season opener, underwent surgery the next day and was on the shelf for the rest of the year.
He reported last week the ankle is “getting better” and he was taking it “kind of slow” to make sure he doesn’t have any recurring problems. He said he can “pretty much” do everything he did before getting hurt.
His only fear is he doesn’t subconsciously favor it once he gets back on the field.
“I hope my mind will let me be OK and nothing’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s fixed. It’s just a mental thing from here.”
Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said he expects Ivory to be “better than he’s ever been.”
Coincidentally, Ivory incurred a similar injury to the other ankle during his senior season in high school. This time, he had the benefit of experience and wisdom — and advanced medical and training procedures — to help him through it. The first time he hurried back and, famously, returned in the middle of a playoff game to rally his team to the state championship. This time, he didn’t feel the pressure to return and proceeded at a different pace.
He got out of his protective boot when the season ended, but it wasn’t until he returned to school in January that he was able to start jogging and such.
“Before, I came back after six weeks and I shouldn’t have come back,” he said. “I kind of pushed it and started to try to rehab early becuase in high school you can’t get a redshirt. I was trying to come back and play and shouldn’t have done that.
“It’s probably taking me a shorter time to get to full strength and full mobility this time becuase I’m taking time to heal. Last time I broke it my senior year in the fall and it took me almost a year and a half to get back to full speed.”
In the run up to last season the coaches raved at the way Ivory trimmed up, slicing some 40 pounds from his frame, but the idle time from the injury threatened all that success. He wasn’t able to exercise early, but was determined not to blow back up.
“I did good,” he said. “I knew I had a plan for it this time. I’ve been through this before. I knew what I didn’t need to do.”
The injury threw Coty Blanchard into the role of full-time starter, and while the sophomore did a man's job in a pinch, Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe always said when Ivory returned the system would return to the way it was. Ivory would start and Blanchard would come in to provide a change of pace.
Ivory might not have been playing while he rehabbed, but he wasn’t away from the game. During what Crowe called a “sabbatical year,” Ivory gained a different perspective that everyone in the program expects will serve him well.
“Sabbaticals are a time for growth; I think he came back with more of a coach’s perspective,” Crowe said.
Ivory agreed it was educational.
“I knew one side of it from playing but not playing and watching with them helped me learn their perspective of what’s going on and how they felt about situations,” he said. “”It was kind of different becuase you don’t realize how fast you have to get everything done up there so we’ll (players) know. It probably helped me the most in the sense of urgency.”
Crowe said the Gamecocks would be “cautious” with Ivory early in the spring and “let him go at his own pace.” He doesn’t suspect it’ll be long before the senior is back up to speed. Ivory returns with 2,746 career passing yards and 25 touchdown passes.
“I won’t say we won’t discount he’s not coming back from something,” Crowe said. “He’s been through this before. I think he’ll be a little less reluctant for having gone through it before.”
And Ivory said he won’t be reluctant to call the play that got him hurt again.
“I’ll run it again,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be paying attention to the ball and catch it.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.