By Chris Dufresne
12:00 PM PST, December 29, 2013
There may be no sadder injury in sports than one to a senior college football player who is also an NFL prospect.
Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner, who will miss Wednesday’s Rose Bowl with a torn pectoral muscle, stood to the side Sunday during media day while wearing his No. 49 jersey.
He was part of the team but not part of it. A career that produced 106 tackles and 17.5 sacks is of no use to the Cardinal now.
Gardner played in 46 games during the renaissance of Stanford football but will watch the Rose Bowl from the sidelines.
The injury that ended his career at Oregon State on Oct. 26 required surgery and a long rehabilitation.
“It’s a brutal game, but it’s what you sign up for,” Gardner said.
He winced when reminded of North Carolina left tackle James Hurst, who broke his fibula in his final college start in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati on Saturday.
Hurst was considered a top prospect in next spring’s NFL draft. He had started 49 games in a row for the Tar Heels.
Gardner, at 6-foot-4 and 277 pounds, is not as highly touted as Hurst. Gardner is considered an NFL “tweener” who plans on making up for any athletic deficiencies with an All-American work ethic.
Gardner still hopes to be a late-round pick who can grind his way onto an NFL roster.
It took him a full week, he said, to get over his anger after the injury.
“It’s tough to accept,” Gardner said. “I will not downplay how difficult it was.”
Gardner said he had to “overcome the emotional sadness and nostalgia when you look back on all the great times.”
Gardner’s job now is to help Stanford defensive line coach Randy Hart prepare his players for Michigan State.
Gardner was lucky in the sense he got to play in last year’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin.
“It’s different than before, for sure,” he said of this year’s game approach. “You definitely don’t get as nervous (not playing) but you still get antsy to get to the game.”
Gardner is two months out of surgery and said he is still a month away from “ramping up” his rehab.
He will miss the NFL Combine in February but says he’ll be ready to go for Stanford’s Pro Day at the end of March.
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