Starting cornerback Marcus Roberson came off the field and something wasn’t quite right.
Most Florida fans didn’t even see him come out of the game against South Carolina in mid-November, but coach Will Muschamp announced two days after the game the budding freshman star was done for the season with a neck injury.
“They came in on Sunday morning and told me, and it was scary,” Muschamp said. “It really was. Any time you deal in the head and the neck, football’s over as far as I’m concerned.”
After Florida initially slapped a four- to six-week recovery time frame on Roberson’s return, concern began to grow as it got further and further past that deadline and the 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback continued to walk around Gainesville with a neck brace on.
Roberson spent six to eight weeks in a very hard, plastic, stationary brace following the injury. Then he spent another six weeks in a less restrictive brace.
“I don’t know the exact medical terms for it, but there was a displacement in the neck area,” Muschamp said. “It was a very, very serious issue. All very healable as far as the medical process is concerned, it just takes time.”
More than four months after his injury occurred, Roberson is finally starting to reach a normal point in his life again.
For a long time, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get there. Dreams of becoming a college football star and a future NFL player were put on hold, and that took its toll on the once promising player.
“He was hurt. He was down bad,” Muschamp said. “I was worried about him just as a human being. He was really depressed about the situation. It was something that he loves and cares about so much maybe being taken away from him.”
Roberson is a quiet person by nature, so some of his teammates did what they could to reach out to him while he was battling the injury and depression.
Senior linebacker Jon Bostic wasn’t fully aware of Roberson’s medical status, but he knew he had to be there for his teammate.
“As a freshman, I know how it is really just getting hurt and being down,” Bostic said. “Really I tried to keep him up, really trying to keep him going.”
Things have improved considerably for Roberson over the past month or so. He’s out of his neck brace, and Florida’s doctors and training staff have cleared him for non-contact work this spring.
He has participated in an orange non-contact jersey this spring, even getting a little physical at times in some one-on-one drills.
Bostic hasn’t seen him slowed down by the injury at all.
“He looks normal to me,” he said. “He doesn’t look any different. He’s out there, he’s competing doing everything they’re letting him do out there.”
As far as the full medical evaluation on Roberson, Muschamp has never been one to give exact medical terminology. But the important thing is that the cornerback’s injury no longer appears to be career threatening.
With something as serious as a neck injury, Florida’s doctors and training staff have been extremely careful to even let him get back into non-contact at practice.
They’re confident he’s healthy enough to avoid further injury.
“Our medical people do a great job,” Muschamp said. “They put him through every test you can imagine and took all the pictures and did all the stuff you can do, and they’ve cleared him for non-contact.”
The Gators are confident in Roberson’s full recovery to the point they’ve already set some goals for him this offseason.
Bostic said the one thing holding the cornerback up from becoming a true star is getting more physical at his position. Since he was limited for a long time with the injury, Muschamp agrees it’s an area he’ll have to catch up in.
“I think physical, overall strength when you’re in coverage against some of the bigger wideouts getting banged around getting pushed, you’ve got to be able to withstand that,” the coach said. “Strength is the No. 1 thing, and physical tackling ability.”
The fact Roberson is healthy and recovering is really all Florida fans need to hear, though.
After all, football is secondary when it comes to serious injuries like the one he suffered last fall.