(Vidal Hazelton earlier in 2010)
There are no guarantees in life and no one probably knows that better on the UC football team than Vidal Hazelton.
Heralded as UC's answer to the departure of Mardy Gilyard, Hazelton saw his 2010 season end prematurely at Fresno State after six catches for 68 yards and three kickoff returns for 41. On one of the kickoffs, Hazelton went down and was diagnosed by Dr. Angelo Colosimo and Head Football Trainer Bob Mangine with a torn ACL.
"I didn't think it was that bad when it first happened," said Hazelton. "I got up and felt like normal. They said I was going through a lot of adrenaline in a game. They just told me to sit out."
Hazelton was hardly sat since.
Sure, he had the corrective surgery, but he's attacked the rehabilitation of his knee with as much determination as he had on the playing field. From the start, Hazelton has professed that he'd be back on the field this season.
Part of that has been because his prognosis for an extra year of eligibility doesn't appear to be favorable. Typically, student-athletes are given five years to get four seasons in. As short as his tenure was in this season, it is fifth overall as he had to sit out last season after transferring from USC.
Most have assumed since day one that having Hazelton on the roster for 2011 was a long shot.
"It's up to the coaches and stuff and it's up to compliance," said Hazelton. "The way it's looking, it's not looking too good."
Because of that harsh reality and because UC could possibly sneak in the back door of a bowl game by winning out, the rumblings of Hazelton making a "reappearance" this season are back.
At least in #7's eyes.
"Could be this week, next week, whenever the docs say," said Hazelton.
As Hazelton spoke, he carried a knee brace that would become part of his attire later in the day at practice.
"If I'm playing, I've got to play with a brace just to be safe," said Hazelton. "My knee's feeling pretty good. Range of motion is back and I'm just going to continue to strengthen it."
So, is he playing and when?
Well, no mention was made of it during Tuesday's press conference by Coach Butch Jones. Also, there's been no medical release distributed by UC. Maybe it's all just wishful thinking on the part of a departing Senior, but it would make a nice story.
"Everything is looking good so far, every test they've put me through I've passed it," said Hazelton. "I'm going to go out and practice and see how I feel. This week is on a practice to practice basis."
IF he does pull off playing AFTER surgery on his ACL, he'll be the first since undersized DL Tony Carvitti did it during the 2006-07 season. Like Carvitti, Hazelton has made remarkable progress. Most of us with the same injury would still be hobbling about and complaining about rehab.
"I've been ahead for a while now," said Hazelton. "I've been working really hard. It takes a lot of hard work."
The hard work has never stopped for Hazelton. After being denied initial eligibility in 2009, he worked with the scout team in practice with 2009's Sugar Bowl team. Then, he labored in the offseason and the spring as new coaches and offensive ideas were being introduced.
Following that, was another August at Camp Higher Ground where he was easily established as a starting receiver, if not the #1.
Then came the first game in Fresno. A return to California for Hazelton that turned tragic when he went down on kickoff return. From there, we'll never know how this season may have turned out. Maybe UC would still be 4-6, but most feel without significant injuries they would've been much better.
"That's definitely not how I wanted to go out as a Bearcat," said Hazelton.
Perhaps that can now be changed. Perhaps even a cameo by Vidal Hazelton could inspire this team to dig deep and eek out these last two wins to gain entrance to some bowl somewhere.
"I think it would definitely," said Hazelton when asked if his comeback to boost the team. "Just to tell a lot of people that are injured right now that no matter what injury you're going through, you can get back if you put you're mind to it."
The native of Staten Island, New York confesses that he's not run 100 percent yet, but has been running a number of routes. You also must factor in that he's been without contact since early September and not quite used to "game speed".
None of that can dissuade a determined young man.
"I'm a little bit nervous, that's just a confidence thing," said Hazelton. "Once I get out there and get going, I'll get more confidence. That's about it. These guys have been making plays all year, I'm not going to step on anybody's toes."
It's all about finishing what he started and Hazelton like many, would like to go out on his own terms. Life's about playing the hand you're dealt.
Whether or not Coach Butch Jones has an "ace up his sleeve" remains to be seen.
"It's tough not because I sat out a year, but because I never had a major injury," said Hazelton. "Just to overcome it, I've got to be proud of myself for how I handled it."
Either way, you can bet Vidal Hazelton's courage and efforts to return have been noted...and hopefully rewarded.