Even when his left thigh throbbed and generally made his life miserable during the winter, never did Dyrell Roberts fear not being able to suit up again for Virginia Tech's football team.
He always knew he'd have a chance to catch some more passes as soon as he recovered from a compartment syndrome injury sustained last November against Georgia Tech, but making receptions was only part of the equation.
What about his speed? Would the wheels that made him one of the nation's best kickoff returners in 2009 and a burgeoning deep threat last season at wide receiver return, or would he become an afterthought in his senior season?
"It crossed my mind because of the significance of the injury," said Roberts, a Smithfield High graduate. "At the same time, once the doctors told me 'Yeah, it's a major injury, but you should be able to come back from it stronger and faster than what you were before,' it helped me out.
"This is my last year. I've got to do what I've got to do to get back on the field. This is my future we're talking about."
With one college season left to show potential National Football League suitors he has something to offer, Roberts went about his rehab process with added motivation. He's back to feeling almost 100 percent.
Though he had a pretty good idea in January he wouldn't be able to do much of anything in spring practice in terms of scrimmage work, Roberts said he actually felt like he was capable of doing much more than he was asked to do in spring.
"I didn't think we'd get anything out of him this spring," said Tech trainer Mike Goforth, who admitted he was worried at times Roberts might not be able to get back to full strength for his senior season. "That sucker pushed and pushed. He was beating (All-America cornerback) Jayron Hosley out there a few times. I know nobody wants to hear that, but (Roberts) was beating him.
"You don't see (compartment syndrome in the thigh) very often. That's a car wreck injury. I'd never dealt with one of those before."
Tech's coaches and training staff simply wanted Roberts to run some routes in the spring, catch some passes and regain his flexibility without having to worry about contact. Roberts begged to do more.
Goforth said he knew Roberts was serious about getting himself back in shape when he saw Roberts stay behind in Blacksburg to rehab during spring break while his friends headed to the beach. Roberts, who had 21 catches for 303 yards and two touchdowns last season, will also spend his entire summer working out in Blacksburg.
When Roberts first suffered the injury Nov. 4 in the first quarter of Virginia Tech's 28-21 win against Georgia Tech, he thought it was just a bruise. He soon discovered it was much worse.
Swelling in the thigh later that night resulted in an early morning trip to the hospital, which turned into a series of surgeries over the next week to relieve pressure build-up in his thigh muscle. Without the surgeries, he could've suffered permanent muscle damage.
Roberts missed the rest of the season, a demoralizing blow for a guy who felt like he was finally starting to come into his own at the receiver position.
In the two games leading up to the Georgia Tech meeting, Roberts had a career day in a 52-21 win against Wake Forest with six catches for 134 yards, and two catches for 49 yards and a touchdown in a 44-7 win against Duke.
"That was something that really hit me hard," said Roberts, who is on track to graduate in December with a degree in human development. "It happened right when I was starting to really get the position down…right when I felt like, not so much that I'd arrived, but when I felt like I was comfortable with the position. It couldn't have happened at a worse time."
Stepping onto the scale earlier this week, Roberts was surprised to see he was up to 203 pounds, which is about 18 pounds heavier than his playing weight last season and the heaviest he has been in his time at Tech. It's "good weight" – the product of weight room-toiling as opposed to fork-shoveling.
He said his left leg now feels like it may be stronger and faster than his right leg as a result of all the isolation workouts during rehab. In two months, he'll find out exactly where he stands when Tech opens practice.
"Maybe the injury was a blessing in disguise," Roberts said. "We'll see."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times