Gregory hoping to end tough year on high note
SAN DIEGO - Nine plays. That was the extent of time Randy Gregory truly felt 100-percent healthy and unhindered over the past 11 games this season.
Since suffering a left knee injury nine snaps into Nebraska's season opener against Florida Atlantic, which forced him to miss the following game versus McNeese State, the junior defensive end has struggled with seemingly one ailment after another over the course of the year.
After undergoing a minor cleanup surgery on that knee to remove leftover scar tissue from a previous injury, Gregory played through flu-like symptoms in his return against Fresno State. He suffered another minor leg injury against Wisconsin which forced him to miss the fourth quarter, then played through a case of bronchitis against Minnesota.
He's still fighting through a right toe injury that has made him have to cut a hole in his shoe to help reduce the pain, and he's finally recovered from a concussion that made him miss the season finale against Iowa.
Gregory said these past few weeks of preparation for the 2014 National University Holiday Bowl have been mostly about trying to get back as close to his old self as possible and hopefully end what has been a frustrating junior campaign on a high note.
"If it's not one thing it's another with me sometimes it feels like, especially this year," Gregory said. "I've never really had any big injuries besides breaking my leg (as a freshman at Arizona Western C.C. in 2012) and obviously my surgery this year. I've always had little nicks here and there, but I've been able to play through them. But over the course of a season like this where you have multiple things come up, and it's hard to recover from it."
Despite all of his injury setbacks, the Fishers, Ind., native has still managed to rack up 50 tackles, 7.0 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hurries and an interception this season. Those are all certainly impressive numbers, but they're still not quite what he and many others were expecting coming off of his All-Big Ten performance a year ago.
Gregory is still pegged by most as a surefire first-round NFL draft pick, potentially even going as a top-five selection, but he can't help but wonder what this season could have been had he been able to stay at least somewhat close to 100 percent.
"It does (frustrate him), only because deep down inside I know - no matter how much it hurts I'm going to go out and play, but there's only so much you can do," Gregory said. "You've got to take it for what it's worth and get healthy."
While he has been forced to watch far more plays from the sideline than he would have liked, Gregory said he's still been able to make gains as a player that might not necessarily show up in the stat sheets. He said he's really improved his technique, especially in using his hands off the line of scrimmage (which he's had to do since his explosiveness has been limited due to injuries).
He's also made it a point to be more of a leader and mentor for his younger teammates. When he had to sit out against Iowa, Gregory was in backup end Jack Gangwish's ear as much as possible offering up tips for how to attack the Hawkeyes' standout offensive tackle Brandon Scherff.
Even when opposing teams were double and even triple teaming him on nearly every snap when he was playing, Gregory's teammates say he never lost his cool and even took some questionable blocking tactics in stride.
"Randy was just being Randy," senior cornerback Josh Mitchell said. "I don't think it really affected him too much. I think he played hard every week. Teams targeted him, and there were a couple players that did some dirty things to him throughout the year, but I never saw him react or retaliate in a negative way. He's a hell of a football player."