Factor in the Secondary
April 13, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
Fred Holton was one of the movers last summer, you know the type. Once football practice begins in earnest every August, there is a player or two - or more if a team is fortunate - who splash. They're better than thought to be, or have improved more than might have been predicted.
It didn't take a pro scout to see that the quiet young man from Thomasville was going to be a factor in Georgia Tech's secondary. A starting job was not out of the question.
Yet in the waning days of the preseason, in the final scrimmage of the summer in fact, there came a kick not in the shins but rather in the back of his left ankle. Problem was, there was no kick; it was worse than that.
That tight cord in the back of his left ankle, you know the tissue that runs up from the heel into the back of the calf, was gone. He didn't know it immediately, but that's what happened. It was all a hot, sweaty, grass-stained blur in Bobby Dodd Stadium.
"When I first did it, they thought maybe I just sprained it, but I told [trainers] it was nothing that I felt before," Holton said. "When I went in, they were feeling it and there was no cord in the back of my ankle and they knew then it was a ruptured Achilles' [tendon]."
A big deal, that. Fred, though, didn't understand so quickly how big. He'd dealt with a few sprained knees and the like, but nothing like this.
If you happen to be in Bobby Dodd Stadium for today's scrimmage, you might not be able to tell by watching No. 15 that he was laid so low not all that long ago, but he hasn't forgotten even as he tries.
"I started asking [a trainer] how long it would be until it was repaired, and he was like, 'Well, you're going to be out the whole season,' " Holton remembered. "The injury kind of took a toll on me ... gave me a little setback. But I was fortunate to be able to come back and get back to running."
Tech's primary safeties will be returning starting Isaiah Johnson, Jemea Thomas and Holton, although there may be some shuffling of defensive backs between the nickel and cornerback spots and the safety positions as well.
He's going to play. You may not be able to tell today that he's still not 100 percent, but he can. In your mind's eye, if you watch him run and react now and think about him being faster, quicker and more reflexive come the fall, it'll probably prompt happy thoughts.
"It's taken some time for me to get the strength back in my ankle. I've come back sooner than what I was supposed to. I'm actually ahead of where I'm supposed to be," he said. "I think I'm getting to where I need to be. As you can tell, I'm not able to push off with as much power and force as before but I think it will come back."
It was a strange process, one Holton will likely never forget. The healing process, though, has added texture to his life.
"I was in a backpedal, and I took just a step back and it was like a gunshot. I asked one of my teammates, 'Did somebody kick me?' but there was nobody behind me," Holton said. "When I tried to jog to the sideline I wasn't able to push off on my foot and land on it. It was just like a dead foot.
"I called my mom immediately and it kind of hurt her, too, because I had worked so hard to get where I was at. She told me that things happen for a reason, and that I have to take the good with the bad, keep pressing on."
And onward the redshirt sophomore presses. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.