UNC Now: WR T.J. Thorpe takes long road back from foot injuries

acarter@newsobserver.comAugust 5, 2013 

 

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

T.J. Thorpe was injured so often, and missed so much time, that the assistant coaches at North Carolina started to have some fun with it.

“Some of the coaches (were) always messing with me,” Thorpe, the sophomore receiver at North Carolina, said on Monday. “Like, ‘Hey, I heard we have an opening for a (graduate assistant coach), or a water boy. You could be equipment manager if you like.’”

Thorpe spoke on Monday after the Tar Heels’ fifth practice. The significance of the third one, on Saturday, wasn’t lost on him. Thorpe suffered a broken foot during UNC’s third preseason practice last year. And then, at the start of spring practice, he suffered nearly the same exact injury.

“The exact same thing,” Thorpe said. “The only difference was … I didn’t break it all the way through. It was just a small crack that started happening.”

Doctors took a bone graft from Thorpe’s hip, he said, and attached it to the bone in his foot. They held it together with a long screw, and all Thorpe could do the rest of spring, and most of the summer, was work toward becoming healthy enough to return to the team.

The Tar Heels missed him a season ago. Thorpe led the ACC in kickoff returns as a freshman in 2011, and he would have provided some much-needed depth last season to the receiving corps, which was one of UNC’s thinnest positions.

His return, though, has bolstered a position that entered the preseason with plenty of questions.

“He’s doing a really nice job,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said on Monday. “I mean, it’s early for me to say anything about him because I don’t want to (jinx) anything about it. He’s doing a nice job. And he looks good. He looks really good doing it. It’s just been a long time since he’s done it.”

Thorpe last played in a game in 2011. It has taken him some time, he said, to regain his motion – “I kind of felt like I was waddling at one point,” Thorpe said – but he said he has become more fluent recently.

Thorpe is back on the kickoff return unit, which is something he said that comes naturally to him. He’s also spent some time on punt returns.

It’s early yet, though. It wasn’t long ago when Thorpe was hearing those jokes. Gallows humor. On Saturday, he had a moment of reflection after making it through his third practice.

"My broken foot anniversary," Thorpe said with a smile.

He’s happy to be back, he said, but the expectations don’t stop there, either. Merely being back isn't enough.

“My expectations are to come back and really make an impact on the game,” he said. “Just make as many plays as possible.”

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