He’s rolled the occasional ankle. There have also been some broken bones along the way.
But Bryan Bresee had never experienced anything like he did last fall.
“That was my first serious injury ever,” Clemson’s star defensive tackle said.
It happened against North Carolina State in late September. Bresee’s left knee was rolled up on during the first half of the Tigers’ first loss of the 2021 season, leaving the 6-foot-5, 307-pounder lying on the turf inside Carter-Finley Stadium in more shock than pain.
A distinct sound on his way down, though, was a telltale sign of what he was dealing with.
“Right when I felt my knee buckle a little bit, I felt a pop in my knee,” Bresee said. “It wasn’t that I was in pain, but it just felt really weird. So I kind of knew right when that happened, it probably wasn’t the best thing.”
An MRI confirmed a torn ACL for Bresee, who had surgery in early October. Months of rehabilitation soon followed, a whole new experience for the nation’s former No. 1 recruit who’s widely viewed as a first-round talent for next year’s NFL Draft. Bresee acknowledged it initially caused doubt about his future to creep into his mind.
“At first, when your leg is not really working and you’re on crutches, you’re like, ‘There’s no way I’m ever going to be able to play football again,'” Bresee said.
But Bresee is playing again, and he said he’s doing so pain-free. More than 10 months after the injury, the junior defensive tackle has been fully cleared medically and is going through fall camp with just one encumbrance – a brace that’s giving his surgically repaired knee some extra support for the time being – and a fresh perspective on playing the game he loves.
“Just realizing how lucky I am honestly just to be out here and work with these guys and all these great people,” Bresee said. “Just enjoying every moment now. You never know when it’s going to be done. So just enjoying every moment with everybody.”
Bresee also underwent a minor operation in January to clean up his shoulder, something he said he was fully recovered from within three months. The rehab on his knee, he said, was far more grueling.
“For a couple of months there, you’re in pretty bad shape just trying to get your hamstring, quad and everything back,” Bresee said. “Extension and all that kind of stuff, which you don’t think about until it happens.”
The mental toll of the process can be just as taxing as the physical, particularly when going through it for the first time. But Bresee said he leaned on his support group to help with that.
“It’s tough, but my roommates were very supportive,” Bresee said. “Everybody here and all the people in this building are super supportive and check on you constantly. My family was a big part of that, checking on me daily. I was still included in everything, and that really helped.”
Bresee began to feel like his old self again by the spring even though he was held out of practices. He started doing some light jogging and felt good enough that he said he could’ve likely returned toward the end of the spring, but he didn’t want to risk a setback by rushing his recovery.
Bresee said he felt like he was back at full strength at the beginning of the summer. He was a full participant in both of the team’s summer workout periods and took competitive snaps again during Clemson’s first practice Friday for the first time since the injury.
“It was really exciting to be out there with the guys again and doing what I love,” he said. “It was real hard last season getting injured, not being able to do that and kind of having to watch from afar. I’m excited to kind of just be back and working with everybody.”
Bresee returns as one of the headliners along a defensive line that has a strong case as college football’s best entering the new season. The Tigers have their entire two-deep back up front from a defense that allowed the second-fewest points in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and Bresee, the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 and a third-team all-league selection last season despite playing just four games, has been one of the conference’s best interior lineman when healthy.
As for his playing shape, Bresee said it will take him a little time to get back where he wants to be – “whenever you put pads on, it’s a different shape than just running,” Bresee said – but he put in more work in the film room during the offseason to stay sharp mentally, he said. As one of the veterans along the defensive front now, Bresee has also made a point to improve another aspect of his game during the offseason.
“Just trying to lead this group, lead the defense and becoming more vocal with it,” he said. “It’s hard being off and trying to learn more to try to become a main leader, and that was my main thing.”
And for anyone wondering if he feels like the same player he was before the injury, Bresee said there isn’t much to worry about.
“There’s always some hiccups getting back on the field and feeling everything out again after being out seven to eight months. It’s just getting my feet back,” he said. “I feel as good as I did before though.”
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