Patience pays off for Deaver, Blue Devils
The injuries, and there have been plenty, did their best to dampen Braxton Deaver’s spirit.
The Duke tight end wouldn’t let it happen.
After a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a fractured patella in the same knee eight months later and a broken thumb on top of that, Deaver returned to the Wallace Wade Stadium playing field on Saturday.
Not satisfied with simply appearing in a game, the 6-5, 240-pound redshirt junior from Charlotte started and scored the first touchdown of Duke’s 45-0 win over N.C. Central.
He admitted to feeling some relief after he hauled in the 3-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Connette.
“Definitely, coming back, I wanted to come in strong in the game and play the best I could,” Deaver said. “It wasn’t a very long pass, but it definitely lifted a weight off my shoulders.”
As good as 2012 was to Duke’s football program on the field, suffice to say that Deaver was glad to see the calendar switch to 2013.
His maladies started in December 2011 when he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that required surgery. Deaver adhered to a strenuous rehabilitation schedule, putting himself in line to play this past season.
But in June, he suffered a broken thumb in a freak accident. Duke quarterback Anthony Boone tossed a football toward Deaver in an equipment room. The ball happened to hit Deaver’s thumb in such a manner that it fractured the bone, and he needed another surgery.
A few weeks later, wide receiver Blair Holliday was involved in a personal watercraft accident that nearly took his life. With Holliday unable to play football, Duke’s coaches thought Deaver might be part of the solution to filling a void on offense.
But a few days after Holliday’s accident, Deaver suffered a broken kneecap in the same leg that he’d had surgery for the ACL.
So while the Blue Devils were winning six games and qualifying for a bowl for the first time since 1994, Deaver was left to rehabilitate two more injuries while missing the season.
“It’s one of those things where, at that point in my life, my emotions were up and down,” Deaver said. “It’s hard to stay focused. It’s hard to have an even keel about some things.
“You want to be out there, but you have to understand that if you want to come back you have to go put in the work with your nose to the grindstone. That’s how I live my life.”
Despite recent history, Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday he isn’t worried about Deaver being any more susceptible to injury than anyone else.
“Everybody knows the term — that’s he’s injury-prone,” Cutcliffe said. “You hear that about a guy. He’s fought through that well. You can’t believe that stuff. There is no such thing. You’ll hear coaches say he’s got brittle bones. He’s got this or he’s got that. Sometimes you are just not very fortunate.”
But Cutcliffe does consider the Blue Devils fortunate to have Deaver back on the playing field.
“He’s got excellent hands, size and strength,” Cutcliffe said. “Braxton is really strong. I think he’s probably the strongest tight end we have here.”
After playing his first game in nearly two years, Deaver admitted to needing a few minutes to re-acclimate himself.
“The first drive was definitely an eye-opener,” Deaver said. “It was hot out there — definitely getting used to that.”
Deaver’s teammate, Josh Snead, knew what he was going through. Snead, a running back, missed the 2011 season with a broken foot before returning to play a year ago.
“Being two years out and coming out, he played a good game from a blocking standpoint and a receiving standpoint,” Snead said. “So it was great to see him out there and just be him and get back in the groove of things.”
Deaver, who had eight career catches before Saturday’s game against NCCU, caught three passes for 16 yards.
After nearly two years of waiting, they all felt good for a change.