Sept. 22, 2011
By Drew Weber
Bouncing back from an injury is nothing new for senior Ben Pooler. As a freshman at the University of Maryland, Pooler injured his knee during the preseason which forced him to redshirt. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker from Morristown, N.J., devoted much time and effort into his rehab in the hope of being able to contribute to the Terrapin defense as a redshirt freshman. But, when Pooler got the chance to play, the injury bug bit again as he injured his knee in his first game back and was lost for the year - again.
Fighting through adverse situations in consecutive seasons proved to be a tough battle for Pooler. However, he embraced the rehab process and his hard work paid dividends the following season. Once healthy, he turned in a productive sophomore season, in which he played 11 games, starting five, and ranked third on the team in tackles for loss (6.3) and fourth in sacks (3.0).
A successful sophomore campaign set high expectations for his future as a Terrapin. But, as if on cue, Pooler's hopes were dashed by injury heading into the 2010 season. In somewhat of a déjà vu scenario, he suffered an ACL injury in training camp and was sidelined for the year. Distraught by the news, Pooler was unsure how to approach another unfortunate situation in the game he loves so much.
"It was heartbreaking," Pooler said. "For someone who loves the game as much as I do, it's tough. To have to watch someone else play my position, or watch my team lose a game that I thought I could have helped them win was tough."
With the possible exhaustion of eligibility at Maryland following his graduation in 2010, Pooler was uncertain of what was in store for him in 2011. The linebacker's love for the game gave him hope that some opportunity would arise to continue his college football career.
Enter the Bearcats. The University of Cincinnati football program offered him a chance to continue his collegiate eligibility by enrolling in a graduate program. Initial communication with the UC staff began through Facebook, and Pooler quickly grasped the opportunity.
"I felt like it was a blessing," Pooler said. "God gave me the opportunity to play football."
The veteran has quickly embraced the new situation and is already making an impact at Cincinnati. In the first two games alone, Pooler recorded two fumble recoveries and eight tackles. Already, he has developed an early affinity for the Bearcat way and is proud to be a member of UC's `black cat' defense.
"The whole situation is just an opportunity for me to play football again so I am ready to jump at it," Pooler said.
Head Coach Butch Jones isn't the least bit surprised at Pooler's ability to quickly buy into the Bearcat football family. Jones' initial impressions of the linebacker, both on and off the field, have been nothing but encouraging.
"I think it is extremely difficult when an individual comes into your football family who doesn't know anyone, coupled with having one year of eligibility," Jones said. "It is a tribute to Ben and to our players that they welcomed him with open arms from day one and I think Ben has done a great job of earning their trust. That speaks volumes about him and it has been like he has been here for the last four or five years because he has fit into our standards that we expect both on and off the field."
As expected, there has been a learning curve for Pooler to adapt to a new defense and play alongside new faces. Developing a connection with veterans on the defense and learning quickly from the defensive staff have been critical elements in the senior's acclimation to a new defensive unit.
"Building chemistry is always the most important thing," Pooler said. "I felt as a defensive staff, and a defensive core group, everybody embraced me. So we built that chemistry and that made learning easy."
Pooler's ability to learn on the fly and his veteran presence has made him a valuable tool for the defensive staff to utilize. Though he experienced great success as a weak side linebacker at Maryland in his sophomore season, Pooler seems to be at ease at each linebacker position.
"I am comfortable anywhere where I know what I am doing," Pooler said. "I can play fast. Film study helps me play fast. I am comfortable wherever."
While he, too, is learning from the other veterans on the defense, Pooler hopes he can also be an aid to the young, inexperienced linebackers as they adjust to the college game. The senior has experienced many ups and downs in his career and is willing to use these experiences to mentor his younger teammates.
"It is like a big brother type system where the older players take the younger players under their wing," Pooler said. "They help them learn the ropes as far as how to be a college football player and how to study like a college football player. A lot of it is preparation. What happens on the grass is what happens on the grass, but a lot of what helps you perform well on the grass is what you do in the position meeting room or even outside of that in your room watching film. Helping them realize that is the biggest point."
Fighting back from numerous injuries throughout his career has been challenging for Pooler, but the senior looks at these experiences as something that have made him stronger. As he continues to be a helping hand to the young linebackers on the defense, his future outside of football could continue this assisting theme. Though he would love to play in the NFL if the opportunity arises, the criminal justice graduate student has entrepreneurial visions to assist injured athletes in the future.
"I want to have my own business," Pooler said. "I want to start a program that is psychological rehab for athletes that come off of surgeries because a lot of it is mental. A lot of it is a lot more than just a physical rehabilitation. I want to help athletes in that way."
Pooler's path to Cincinnati has been long and tiresome, but he wouldn't have it any other way. The opportunity to continue playing the game he loves while becoming part of a new football family was a chance that he couldn't pass up.
"I love being a Bearcat," Pooler said. "I love everything about it."