Top Comeback Players for Each SEC Team
Henry Josey Among SEC Players Poised for a Comeback Season in 2013
Cheering for the underdog is one aspect of competitive sports that make it such an enthralling and captivating thrill ride. When teams and players get back to that proverbial mountaintop, we can revel in their excitement because we can empathize with their journey; it’s something that each of us has encountered in our own lives.
Hurdles, setbacks and obstacles are a part of every great journey because nothing worth having ever comes easy. I have identified the top players destined for a comeback season in 2013 from each SEC team and detailed their plight and circumstances that has them on this list.
To be eligible for this comeback list, I had only a few criteria. First, the player had to miss a considerable amount of time in 2012 as a result of injury or transfer rules, which make a player sit out the season. Secondly, the player grossly underachieved for whatever reason, but is poised to bounce-back in a big way one year later.
Last year, Marcus Lattimore was the textbook case of a player poised for a comeback season. If he were still in college, he would be again this season. Despite Lattimore being in the NFL, a number of candidates are across the SEC ready to make an impact for their teams in America’s premier football conference.
I’m rooting for the 14 guys on this list to get back on the field and prove to those who doubted their ability to return to the field, and some of these guys will be x-factors in the conference championship picture.
Black missed his entire freshman season last year after a promising spring for the highly regarded recruit who was on everybody’s All-American team. Coaches felt he was ahead of freshman sensation Amari Cooper at the time of his injury, which is a scary thought. Black is healthy and poised to line up on the opposite of Cooper in what could be the most prolific aerial attack in Alabama history.
Mitchel is an underrated talent and one of the conference’s cornerbacks when healthy. But last season was one that the 6-0, 192-pound junior would like to forget after he had to miss a total of five games. He was carted off the home field after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit with his teammate Alonzo Highsmith vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Then, in an unrelated malady, he had to have his gallbladder removed and missed a month of action. The Hogs sorely missed him as they finished with the worst pass defense in the conference giving up 285.8 ypg. He is arguably the team’s best defender. Despite being slowed by a hamstring injury this spring, he should be 100% this fall and put his 4.4 speed to use in shutting down the top receivers in the SEC.
The struggles of Frazier have been well documented after he was benched early last year and only threw two touchdowns to eight interceptions last season. It remains to be seen if he or Jonathan Wallace will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2013, but I think the relationship he and Gus Malzahn have will give Frazier the edge in the quarterback race that likely won’t be decided until late August. Frazier has the ability to be successful and I believe will equal his season total of touchdown passes in the first half of the first game of 2013.
Honorable mention goes to Justin Garrett who has found a new home in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense at the "Star" position after having only one career start prior to this season.
The former top recruit in the nation is itching to get back on the field after suffering a torn ACL last spring and suffering a setback as he tried to come back for the 2012 season. The Gators are being cautious and trying to avoid another setback in Powell’s recovery and will wait until August to clear their “Buck” linebacker. His health and new-found leadership will be tantamount as the Gators need to replace a number of valuable members from last year’s vaunted defense.
Bennett was the favorite target for quarterback Aaron Murray before he tore his ACL and had to miss the final nine games. Prior to the injury, he had 24 receptions for 345 yards and four touchdowns in five games. He had 70 or more yards in four of the five games as Georgia averaged 48.2 points per game with him in the lineup. In the three games after his injury, Georgia averaged only 16 points per game. Head coach Mark Richt said Bennett should be good to go with no limitations as early as June after being held out of contact drills this spring. His health and return to form will be imperative with Tavarres King and Marlon Brown gone.
Smith finds himself in a battle to be the team’s starting quarterback with Jalen Whitlow. But when he’s healthy as he was to start last year, he is the team’s best option under center. Smith started the first four games last season and in the games he finishes, he averaged more than 300 yards per game with a 68.7 completion percentage. His supporting cast let him down in those games. But after a strong finish in 2011 earned him a spot on the Freshman All-SEC team, he has proven he can be an impact player in the conference. He has the size at 6-4, 230-pounds with the smarts and arm talent to pull off an upset or two with a better coach and he’s got that with Mark Stoops.
Williford missed a large chunk of last season due to a nasty concussion, but is expected to replace La’el Collins who moved from his left-guard position to his natural position at left tackle. The LSU offensive line is still trying to figure out their five best linemen, but Williford and his 6-7, 325-pound body will be one of the five charged with protecting Zach Mettenberger and opening up holes for the Tiger run game.
Shackelford has missed the past two seasons after a series of knee operations looked like it may end the linebacker’s football career. But he is healthy and back for Ole Miss who will rely on his leadership this season. He has persevered through his lingering knee injuries that would have forced a weaker individual to quit, but “Shack” kept fighting and his emotional leadership is a huge intangible why many are predicting the Rebels to have a big season.
Malcolm Johnson-Mississippi State-TE
Johnson was slowed by a torn pectoral muscle that help him out of Mississippi State's first five games. When he returned to the field, Marcus Green had asserted himself as the team’s starting tight end relegating Johnson to a reduced role in the offense. Green is gone which means the 6-2, 230-pound Johnson, who has star potential, has the opportunity to shine in 2013. He only had 10 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns last season, but has the potential to see those totals rise exponentially with the team’s top-four receivers gone.
Josey was arguably the best running back in the Big 12 before he missed the last year and a half after a devastating knee injury vs. Texas in 2011. Josey was unable to come back in 2012, but he looked good this spring and is shaking the rust off after a prolonged absence. He is a home-run threat that the Missouri offense sorely lacked without him. If he proves he resembles the player before his injury, then Missouri can surprise some people in the SEC this year.
Brandon Wilds-South Carolina-RB
Wilds missed the entire 2012 season and took a redshirt after a high-ankle sprain prevented him from building on the end of his 2011 season. Starting in place of the injured Marcus Lattimore, he had three 100-yard games as a true freshman. This season offers the promise that he can be a featured part of the running-back rotation with Mike Davis, Shon Carson and Kendric Salley. My prediction is the 6-2, 218-pound tailback leads the Gamecocks in rushing this season.
Randolph was the Tennessee’s leading tackler with 22 stops before he tore his ACL in the loss to Florida last year and was coming off a superb freshman campaign in 2011 when he made eight starts and ended up on numerous Freshman All-American teams. Secondary coach Willie Martinez has raved about Randolph’s leadership skills, work ethic and those are the qualities that help injured athletes come back stronger post-injury. He should be 100% for fall camp after being held out of some drills in spring practice. Once healthy, he should be back in the starting lineup and picking up where he left off in 2012.
Honorable mention goes to Dontavis Sapp who has only two career starts, but the senior looked like a new player this spring and earned a spot as one of the starting linebacker positions.
Brandon Williams-Texas A&M-RB
Williams isn’t coming back from injury like others on this list, but he is coming back to football after sitting out last season after transferring from Oklahoma. The former No. 3 running back recruit left the Sooners after his freshman season and only 46 carries for 219 yards. Williams will team up with starting running back Ben Malena and fellow transfer running back Tra Carson to keep Johnny Manziel from running as often as he did last year and preserve his health.
The diminutive Seymour will have to do the heavy lifting with Zac Stacy in the NFL. But the 5-7, 190-pound running back should be well-rested after redshirting in 2012 after being the team’s No. 2 running back in 2011 when he finished third on the team with 263 yards on 81 carries. After a knee injury forced Seymour to redshirt in 2012, he is in line to be the starting tailback for Vanderbilt in 2013.