ORONO — Jared Turcotte’s health, rehabilitative progress and proximity to the field Saturday morning were in the eye of the beholder.
Ask the Lewiston High School star and All-America running back how close he was to participating in the Jeff Cole Spring Scrimmage, otherwise known as the University of Maine’s blue-white football game, and you might be persuaded that he was nursing a paper cut.
“I don’t want to be out there for no reason and tweak an ankle or something. That’s not going to help me over the summer to get in shape and be good for the fall,” Turcotte said. “I’m ready to go now. I would have been ready to go toward the end of the spring, but I wasn’t anywhere near the shape I need to be. If you go out and get tired fast, you break down mentally, and as a result you can get hurt. I didn’t want to do that, so that’s pretty much the only reason Coach kept me out.”
“Oh, no, he couldn’t go,” Jack Cosgrove said, answering before the invisible punctuation mark had been applied to the question. “That was not precautionary. He’s not ready to go, yet. He’s a long ways away. He’s not the doctor on this. He’s a sophomore in college. Whatever he’s saying, he wasn’t even close to being ready to go.”
So there are conflicting views. But there’s also good news if you’re a fan of the Black Bears or the snake-bitten, would-be linchpin of their offense.
Maine won’t open the 2010 season against Albany at Alfond Stadium until precisely four months from today — Thursday, Sept. 2.
And there were signs that Turcotte will be prepared for the rigors of Division I-AA football by then. He participated in the pre-game walk-through portion of Saturday’s event, just as he suited up and endured a relatively normal number of repetitions throughout spring practice.
“I ran routes. Last week I wore shoulder pads with a red jersey (signifying limited contact). I just didn’t do any inside running seams. That’s pretty much the only thing I didn’t do,” Turcotte said. “I need to hit somebody. But it’s definitely nice to be back on the field and running around with everybody. (Last year) was a rough deal.”
Rougher than Turcotte imagined when he was held out of the ’09 season-opener against Division II St. Cloud State with a groin injury. Maine staved off an upset in overtime.
Nine days later, a rested Turcotte received the go-ahead to dress for a game at Northeastern. Almost immediately the twinge in his lower abdomen was connected to the pit in his stomach and the sinking feeling in his heart.
“I was doing warm-ups and it just didn’t feel right,” Turcotte said. “I tried to keep going and it hurt worse and worse.”
Turcotte never played a down in Boston. Upon his return home, two doctors diagnosed a sports hernia.
It’s an injury that has achieved ubiquity alongside the ACL tear and turf toe in sports parlance. Sports hernia has sidelined such NFL headliners as Donovan McNabb, Jeremy Shockey and Terence Newman. Tom Brady has battled the malady over the years.
One surgery usually solves the problem. Turcotte’s case required two trips to the operating table.
“They fixed it, and I was good to go. I came back and ended up hurting the other side. I actually think I hurt both sides before the first surgery. So I think it was just a whole general problem down there,” he said with a laugh.
That smile has been missing, at least in a football context, since Turcotte’s brilliant freshman season of 2008.
Turcotte started that fall as an H-Back, a hybrid of fullback and tight end. When starting tailback Jhamal Fluellen was lost to injury, Turcotte got his shot at the familiar feature-back role that won him the Fitzpatrick Trophy as Maine’s outstanding senior high school player in 2006.
He led the team in rushing yardage (602) and receptions (25) while scoring seven touchdowns. Turcotte twice was named Colonial Athletic Association rookie of the week and was tabbed a second-team All-American.
Buoyed by Turcotte’s running and blocking prowess as well as his pass receiving threat, Maine’s rushing attack ranked among the top 20 in the nation.
Easy to understand Turcotte’s sense of helplessness when the Black Bears’ ground production plummeted last fall.
“It was like my redshirt year all over again, except I knew I could play at this level now. I knew I could compete at a high level and help the team,” Turcotte said. “When you go from being the No. 1 rushing team in the league to towards the bottom, and you know if you were in there you could help out a little bit … I’m not saying I’d be the solution to our problems, because we had a lot of problems that contributed to that. It just would have been nice to be out there.”
Turcotte is listed as the starting tailback on Maine’s two-deep roster. Without him in the mix Saturday, junior Pushaun Brown and freshman Terrell Walker logged most of the carries.
At 6-foot-2 and a sturdy 232 pounds, Turcotte still has the look of a ’tweener. His combination of size and speed screams versatility.
No matter where the Black Bears employ Turcotte’s talents, know this: If he’s on the field, essentially as a fourth-year sophomore, he makes Maine a better football team. Arguably the marquee homegrown player on the roster, his presence also is bound to put fannies in the grandstands.
“There’s nothing holding me back,” he said. “I just need to get back out there.”
Well, almost nothing. Turcotte is learning that it’s easier to be forgiven for doing too much on the practice field than get permission to stay there.
“I don’t worry about those things anymore. You line up with what the fates have. We just have to keep getting good football players and developing them,” Cosgrove said. “We can’t worry about one person. We have to worry about 90.”
Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected]