LAS VEGAS When Boise State cornerback Jerrell Gavins knee was ravaged by a falling teammate in practice last September, there was an obvious glimmer of hope.
Because he had only played three games, he was eligible to redshirt and replay his senior year in 2012.
And since he wasnt on track to graduate until December 2012, the extra season would allow him to leave Boise with his degree in hand.
Gavins, though, didnt want to hear about Plan B or even to use it. He had played fantastic football to start the season.
I was prepared to just go to the NFL, he said. I didnt want to come back. At the time I was thinking, NFL, NFL, NFL. Coach (Chris Petersen) told me not to make my decision now. I just had to put my pride aside and be more of a cheerleader. Thats what I was a coach, helping with the young guys.
And eventually, he saw his future Petersens way.
Gavins will be back in the Broncos secondary this fall, although he still is dealing with some issues in his knee. He tore the posterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, sustained a bone contusion and injured his hamstring.
I lose count of all that stuff, he said.
It was a freak accident that caused the damage. Gavins was blitzing in practice when a lineman fell on his leg and twisted it the wrong direction.
Gavins missed the rest of the season and all of spring ball. Plus, his mom was supposed to visit Boise for the first time the week he was injured. She canceled her trip from their home in Miami because her son wasnt up for visitors.
I just prayed every day and told myself to let it go, Gavins said. I had to just take it one day at a time. I was wondering how serious the injury was. Would I be healthy enough to go pro? I was just down, down, down. Things like (my degree), at that point in time, you really dont care about.
Reality eventually set in.
He would have missed all-star games, the NFL Scouting Combine and pro day. He already is an underdog at the pro level because of his size 5-foot-9, 169 pounds.
I just wasnt ready, he said. It took more than about eight, nine months. Nobody is going to give a little midget dude with a broken leg a chance.
Petersen has seen these internal struggles after major injuries before, so he expected Gavins to refocus on college football. First, he had to deal with the emotional pain that accompanies these setbacks.
Ive seen growth in him, Petersen said this week at Mountain West media days. I hope Jerrells a much stronger, more resilient person in the long run. If not, its just useless pain hes gone through.
Gavins, in fact, plans to use the disappointment as motivation. He already played with an edge one honed from being underestimated because of his size and unrecruited out of high school, when he went to El Camino College in Southern California before Boise State found him.
On top of what he lost is what his team lost. The Broncos sustained their only loss, against TCU, while Gavins and fellow starting cornerback Jamar Taylor were injured and the Horned Frogs repeatedly threw deep.
It never really goes away, Gavins said of the disappointment. I wont let go. In some aspects, I can. I was an angry person last year, so this year Im going to be real mad. I know how to keep it poised. When I get opportunities to be a mad man, I will be a mad man.
Gavins and Taylor are both seniors this season, forming what should be the backbone of the Broncos rebuilt defense. Theyre close friends and training partners who compete intensely with each other.
Hes a grinder, Taylor said. He never really stops. I told you guys last year he was a playmaker. Thats just Jerrell. If you throw it his way, either hes going to knock it down or intercept it every time. You really saw teams going at him a lot the first three games, and he made them pay.
Gavins still isnt 100 percent, but he has participated fully in the summer program. He occasionally needs to drain fluid from the knee.
He doesnt expect any of that to slow him down.
His mom plans to attend the game at Southern Miss and Senior Day. He should pick up a communications degree in December. And if he plays anything like last year, he likely will get plenty of opportunity to perform in front of scouts before the NFL Draft.
In lieu of his usual numbers-based goal sheet, he has posted a one-word mantra above his TV at home and his locker: Execute.
Thats what he did as well as anyone last year, when he grabbed three interceptions (a team high for the season) and broke up three passes in those three games.
If I work hard enough and can be as consistent as I was, he said, the same things will happen this year even better.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat