Boise State senior fullback Dan Pauls groin injury last season took an emotional toll as well as a physical one.
Paul was injured stretching for practice five days before the season opener against Georgia. For a few weeks, he thought he might return quickly. Eventually, he realized he would have to redshirt and need surgery.
He returned to practice Aug. 4 when the Broncos opened fall camp nearly a year later.
Its like a dream come true, Paul said Monday. Ive been in the dumps the past year, just not being able to run, workout or do much involved with the team. So it just feels great to be back and part of something.
Paul tore a tendon from his pelvis while doing a high-knee stretch. He felt a pop but tried to finish practice. The next day, he struggled to walk.
It took several weeks before the injury was diagnosed. He had surgery when the tear didnt heal on its own.
It was super aggravating, seeing all my buddies who I came in with finishing up their senior day, Paul said. It was kind of heartbreaking at times, but Im pretty fortunate to have that extra year to come back and finish my senior year off right.
Paul joined the Broncos in January 2008 as a grayshirt linebacker. He played special teams as a true freshman and switched to fullback, where he became the starter late in the 2009 season because of Richie Brockels injury. He caught three touchdown passes against Nevada in 2009 and was the primary fullback in 2010.
The 6-foot-1, 262-pounder brings a bruising presence to the two-back run game, can play some tight end and energizes the entire unit with his personality.
Im really hopeful that Dan Paul can come back fully healthy, coach Chris Petersen said, because hes a really good player when hes healthy. I just hope for his sake with all the things hes been through, how long hes been grinding at this that he can have a good senior year.
Added senior tailback Drew Wright: Hes a leader, and its nice to see him back.
Petersen said Paul is fully cleared, but he considers him play by play because of the injury.
Paul wasnt cleared until the first day of fall camp and as recently as a month ago wasnt sure hed be practicing.
I came into camp not really knowing how I was going to react to it, not knowing how my body was going to handle it, he said. This is leaps and bounds ahead of where I thought I was going to be. Its awesome. It feels great.
Paul has had a few moments of glory like the game against Nevada but said what he enjoys most is providing that physical edge to the run game. Coaches used defensive players and tight ends to replace him last year.
Whatever I can do for this offense is what I want to do, Paul said. What I most enjoy is getting those big blocks and watching (tailback) D.J. (Harper) break for the end zone, or Doug Martin in the past. Thats where I get the joy in football.
The battles between wide receivers and defensive backs were the highlight of Mondays practice. The two best plays belonged to wide receiver Chris Potter, who made a diving catch along the sideline on a ball that was just out of the defenders reach, and cornerback Bryan Douglas, who came down with an interception at the goal line in a leaping contest with wide receiver Matt Miller and safety Hazen Moss.
SPOTLIGHT ON WR SHANE WILLIAMS-RHODES
Williams-Rhodes checked in even smaller than advertised 5-foot-6, 154 pounds. Yet if the first 10 days of fall camp are any indication, he will live up to coach Petersens billing as one of the programs most exciting players.
Williams-Rhodes has shown playmaking ability as a wide receiver. He also has carried the ball and worked as a kick returner.
Hes been so much fun to watch so far, Potter said. Hes a good kid, fun to be around, and everyone can see hes very talented.
Williams-Rhodes, who is from Spring, Texas, was his high school teams MVP the past two seasons. He caught 110 passes for 1,934 yards and 20 touchdowns in those two years. He also was an exceptional kick returner, as evidenced by his YouTube highlights.
No doubt, hes very dynamic, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Robert Prince said. Thats why we recruited him and thats why we loved him and wanted him here. He is a hard worker and wants to get better.
Williams-Rhodes, and all first-year freshmen, are not available for interviews.
MEANWHILE, AT SAN DIEGO STATE
Aztecs quarterback Ryan Katz could lead a second opponent into Bronco Stadium this season. The former Oregon State starter has been named the San Diego State starter going into the season opener, coach Rocky Long announced Monday.
Katz still could be challenged by sophomore Adam Dingwell.
Katz, a senior, was 12-of-26 for 159 yards and a touchdown with the Beavers in a 2010 game in Boise. Boise State won 37-24.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat