Fuquay-Varina senior lineman Shawn Underwood spent the first official day of high school football practice Monday doing exactly what he didn't want to do: He stood on the sideline and watched.
The 6-foot-3, 317-pound tackle plans to attend every Bengals practice the rest of the season, but he'll only be watching for about the next nine weeks.
The University of North Carolina recruit has a partially torn tendon in his quadriceps, the big muscle on the top of the thigh. Surgery isn't necessary. The cure is rest.
"I'll be at practice," Underwood said Sunday. "This is still my team, and these are still my teammates. But I can't play until I get well."
Underwood believes he injured his thigh about a year ago while lifting weights.
"I dropped about 225 pounds right on my knee," he said. "It hurt some, and it hurt throughout last season. It was my junior year, and I felt like I had to play."
He thought the injury would heal after the Bengals' playoff run was ended by a 26-6 loss at Wake Forest-Rolesville, but his leg pain got worse.
An MRI revealed the tear a week ago Saturday, and rest was prescribed.
"It wasn't a big surprise, though. I knew I was hurt. My leg kept getting worse, not better," Underwood said. "I've never had anything like this. I've sprained an ankle, but nothing that put me out for this long."
His injury is expected to heal in about two months with rest. Once he's released by his doctors to return to practice, he'll have to complete six days of conditioning and three days of contact drills before he can play in a game.
He may miss about five games, including a couple of Tri-Eight 4-A Conference games. He might be back by the Oct. 1 league showdown against longtime rival Apex on Oct. 1. He plans to lift weights to keep his upper body in shape but knows that he'll lose some of his lower-body fitness.
"You don't want to miss any of your senior year," he said. "I was really looking forward to it. But I sort of knew that something was wrong. I was prepared to have to miss some time, but I didn't know for how long."
When Underwood returns, it may be the equivalent of two players returning. He is outstanding on offense and defense. Rivals.com has him ranked as the No. 29 college prospect in the state.
"It's amazing," Fuquay Varina coach Ryan Habich said. "[UNC likes] him on offense and defense; it's hard to say which side he's better on. He's just very special. The thing that separates him from most big guys is that he has so much speed."
Rivals.com football analyst Mike Farrell said Underwood's biggest assets are his size and strength.
"He plays with natural level, is very strong at the point of attack and takes up blockers," Farrell said. "He's a run stuffer for sure and a guy that you can plug in the middle to free up ends and linebackers because he requires a lot of attention."
Underwood was named to the preseason N.C. Prep Football News all-state team as a defensive lineman (he had 81 tackles last year), and he was on the publication's preseason all-state 4-A team as an offensive lineman.
"We'll miss him, of course," Habich said. "But our guys will just keep working hard. He is an outstanding player, and we'll have to have some other people step up.
"We have six or seven experienced players that are setting the standards for us. They are all going to have to continue to lead our team."
Among the veterans is running back Cory Hunter, who rushed for 1,895 yards in 2009 and scored 36 rushing touchdowns.
"This is still my team," Underwood said. "I will do whatever I can to help this team. I just can't do too much right now."
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