Tech’s Choice fights through injuries for yet another 1,000-yard season
Running back turns in stellar season despite his injuries
ATLANTA — Tashard Choice has plenty of time to think about what might have been this season.
“It goes through my mind every day,” Choice said Tuesday.
Each day begins at 7 a.m. with the first of at least three visits to the Georgia Tech training room. Each session lasts 30 minutes to an hour as the medical staff uses ultrasound, icing, stretching, massage therapy and other treatment strategies on Choice’s troublesome right hamstring.
It’s been a long and frustrating season. Choice has felt completely healthy for only two games — really only one game and the first quarter of another. He rushed for 196 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win over Notre Dame, then went over 100 yards while playing in just the first quarter of a lopsided win over Samford.
Choice suffered the strained hamstring in the third quarter of Georgia Tech’s third game against Boston College. He had only five carries the following week against Virginia.
A bigger scare came against Army on Oct. 20 when he hurt his right knee. He needed arthroscopic surgery to repair the cartilage in the knee, forcing him to miss the Nov. 1 game against Virginia Tech.
Through it all, Choice last week became the first player in Georgia Tech history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, and he is close to leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing for the second straight year.
The impressive numbers only make it more tempting for Choice to wonder how much better he and the Yellow Jackets (6-4) might have been if he had enjoyed a healthy season.
Even in last Saturday’s win at Duke, his first game back after the knee surgery, Choice felt tightness in the hamstring. He had to run out of bounds at the end of a 48-yard run in the first quarter. He rushed for 170 yards, but didn’t feel he was full speed.
“It’s hard to say, but I don’t feel the same as the first two games of the season when I was healthy,” Choice said. “I felt I could play and do a lot more things. When your ham- string bothers you a little there are certain things you do. I’m trying to get it back in that shape where I had that mind frame where I could do more on the field.”
Choice’s teammates realize the senior has played through injuries.
“Tashard is one of those guys, he’ll kill himself or cut off his leg just to be out on the field,” said senior safety Djay Jones. “At the same time, it’s better for him that he rests his body so that he can recover and be 100 percent.”
Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey said he would limit Choice in practice Tuesday and Wednesday as the Yellow Jackets prepare for Saturday’s home game against North Carolina.
“I just have to try to stay off it as much as I can and make sure I stay in treatment each day before and after practice,” Choice said.
“I have to try to do everything to get it back healthy so that when I get in open field I can run as fast as I can. That’s the only problem I have.”
When Choice pulled up on the long run against Duke, Gailey and Georgia Tech fans had to fear the senior had either hurt the knee or suffered a more serious hamstring injury.
Choice has had to pull up on other long runs due to the ham- string problem, but he always returns to the game.
The question for Gailey: Is it difficult to know how to proceed with Choice?
“Yes, but it’s not nearly as difficult as him being out completely,” Gailey said. “That would be a lot more difficult to figure out, how to handle things. It’s a nice problem to have, to have a young man who wants to and who is going to fight through some pain to get in there and play. That’s a great problem to have.”
Before the season, Choice said his goal was to rush for 1,800 yards. The Tech record is 1,562 yards by Eddie Lee Ivery in 1978. Choice has 1,057 yards with nine touchdowns after rushing for 1,473 yards in 14 games last season.
Choice averaged 105 yards rushing per game last year. Despite the injuries, his ACCleading 2007 average is 114.9 — including 31 yards against Boston College, 19 yards against Virginia and 24 against Army. He has rushed for more than 140 yards in six games, including a career-high 204 against Miami on Oct. 13.
There has been pain, but Choice hasn’t stopped smiling.
“I have to laugh, man,” he said. “To have injuries and be sidelined for about three games, that really got me really upset. But I’ll be OK.”