Having just hobbled off the field only one play into the LSU game, Florida defensive end Jon Greenard became overcome with emotion as he stood on the sideline, surrounded by his teammates.
Injured again, his mind took him back to a very depressing and discouraging time in his football career.
“It was tough,” he said. “It kind of brought a flashback, that’s why I got emotional on the sideline. The flashback I had was me missing all of last year, being in the training rooms, being on the sideline every single day and all year. That just kind of brought a little flashback.”
A little over a year ago, Greenard’s junior season at Louisville ended after just one play, when on the first play from scrimmage in the first game of the season, he sustained a serious wrist injury that required surgery.
Three weeks ago, when he went down in the LSU game after just one play trying to play on a high ankle sprain he’d sustained the week before against Auburn, Greenard naturally thought the worst, that the rest of his season was in jeopardy.
But, as it turns out, this time it’s not season over for Greenard. It’s season back on.
Following two weeks of rest and rehab, Greenard has returned to practice this week and is determined to play in Saturday’s SEC East showdown against Georgia in Jacksonville.
“It’s getting there,” Greenard said of his injured right ankle. “It’s good though. I practiced (Monday) and felt really good. Just going to continue to work on it, get more rehab and stuff to be able to make it manageable and continue to do my thing. I just know I’m going to be out there and that’s all that matters.
“I’m 85-90 (percent). If I’m honestly 85-90, to me that’s 100 percent. I feel good. No excuses. Of course, I’m going to have to have the brace and stuff like that but, like I said, I’m playing.”
Greenard injured his ankle in the Auburn game and actually returned after sitting out a few series. A week later, he felt the ankle was good enough to allow him to play against LSU. It wasn’t. He found out in the opening moments.
“I tried to go back in for the LSU game because it felt pretty good throughout the week, just walking and stuff,” he said. “I’ve never had a high ankle sprain before, so me just walking fine I’m thinking it’s fine and it’s just a regular ankle injury, but when I started to take off and plant it just wasn’t ready.”
The week after, heading into the South Carolina game, Greenard was listed as day-to-day and his playing status would be a game-time decision. The decision was made to rest him, which, with the open date, would give him two full weeks to recover.
“I felt like I could go play (against South Carolina), but I knew we had some guys that could make some plays and I wanted to just rest it out a little bit,” Greenard said. “There’s no point to get out there and not even be 50 percent and trying to make plays when I knew I wasn’t ready.”
He’s ready now. And this is a game he wouldn’t miss. Greenard is from Hiram, Ga., and followed the Bulldogs as a kid. But he grew up a Gator fan, which means this game is personal to him.
“This game is huge,” he said. “This is a game I’ve been thinking about since I was a child. I heard about it, the opposite side, me being a Florida fan all my life. I got all the trash talk already, still got trash talk on my phone.
“It’ll be good, it’ll be really good to get a W, bragging rights not only to them, but it also sets us up for where we want to be moving forward with this team. We’ve got a lot of guys that can make some real good plays. We’ve got a lot of guys that think this team can take it the distance. At this point, we’ve just got to play football.”
For the first time since early in the season, the Gators expect to be close to full strength on both sides of the ball.
Greenard and fellow starting defensive end Jabari Zuniga (high ankle sprain) have returned on defense, while starting slot wide receiver Kadarius Toney is back after missing the last six games with an injured shoulder.
“It will be good with everybody back,” Greenard said. “Even on the offensive side with KT. Just seeing guys like that running the ball again, Zu back out there and everybody back out there how it was week one, or week zero.
“Hopefully, we can get the same results we did in week zero. We just work through our injuries and everybody’s banged up around the country. You can’t find one person who’s not banged up around the country, whether it’s minor or severe. We’re going to play through it just like everybody else.”
Getting Greenard and Zuniga is big for the defense. While both were out in the past two games, the Gators gave up some big plays in the running game and struggled to produce a steady pass rush.
Those two issues could be alleviated with their return.
“Anytime you lose guys like that, it can affect you in everything you do,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Because they’re physical guys at the point of attack, they’re guys who can get off blocks, they’re guys that can win the one-on-one blocks, set the edge.
“Anytime you remove one, you’re dinging yourself, and if you remove two, that ends up being a challenge, which our guys have handled and did a really good job against South Carolina. We’ve kind of got some depth now with them coming back. You kind of feel comfortable playing maybe some other guys a few snaps that maybe you wouldn’t have earlier.”