Jake Duzey’s smile and the sparkle in his eye stood out during last Tuesday’s press conference at the Iowa football complex.
Iowa’s senior tight end said he felt as good as he had in months, ever since that dreadful day in the offseason when Duzey sustained a knee injury.
He was optimistic that the worst part of the injury was over and that he might even show flashes of the old Jake Duzey against Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
Sadly, that won’t happen.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced on Sunday that Duzey had re-injured his knee in practice on Friday and would not play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
“We all feel badly for Jake and the fact that this injury will keep him from playing in the game,” said Ferentz. “Jake has worked extremely hard since his initial injury in the spring, and has contributed to the success of our season in a number of ways.”
Duzey had earned a reputation as Iowa’s play-making tight end, somebody who could make plays in space and stretch defenses. His 85-yard scoring reception at Ohio State in 2013 ranks is tied for the ninth longest scoring reception in school history.
The Troy, Mich., native finished third on team last season with 36 catches for 392 yards and tied for the team lead with three receiving touchdowns.
There was hope that Duzey would have even a bigger role as a senior with C.J. Beathard playing quarterback.
Hope took a new meaning after the injury occurred in the spring. Duzey’s only hope from that point on was to get healthy again.
He said last Tuesday that he was close to being healthy again. He was upbeat and eager to play in the Rose Bowl with his teammates.
But Duzey also spoke candidly about the mental and physical anguish that occurs with an injury as serious as his knee injury. For much of his recovery process, Duzey struggled not to think the worst when making a cut or accelerating on the field.
“That’s what I’m working on and right now I’m getting beyond that,” Duzey said last Tuesday. “During the season, definitely I would be out there and making a cut and I’d be like, `oh, man. I don’t know if I can do that.’
“But I’m just getting past that right now. I’m finally letting loose a little bit.”
Apparently, Duzey’s knee wasn’t ready to handle the strain of letting loose again, although, Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis said Sunday that Duzey was injured during a simple blocking drill. There is no way of knowing for sure when a surgically repaired knee is ready, even in this day of advanced medicine and recovery techniques.
Duzey saw limited action in nine games this season and was used mostly to block on the line of scrimmage. He said last week that he might have returned too soon from the injury, but that he was eager to play as a senior.
Duzey deserves respect for playing at less than 100 percent this season. He wanted to be a part of something special as a fifth-year senior, even if it came at his own expense.
Playing in the Rose Bowl would’ve been Duzey’s last chance to be a Hawkeye. But instead, his career ended exactly one week before what would’ve been his biggest game as a Hawkeye with an injury in practice.
How cruel is that?
Duzey’s injury left a void at tight end that has been filled nicely by cousins Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle. Krieger Coble is second on the team with 32 catches for 385 yards, while Kittle leads the team with six touchdown receptions on just 20 catches.
Kittle is similar to a healthy Duzey in that he is a playmaker who stretches defenses with his speed and agility.
Duzey was a playmaker until his knee succumbed to an injury.
You feel horrible for Duzey because he busted his butt for four years – he was redshirted in 2011 – and suffered through some terrible losses. He paid the price for success, but hasn’t been healthy for one second of Iowa’s historical season.
There is no way to explain it, other than saying life isn’t always fair.