BOWLING GREEN - Knock on wood, Bowling Green State University football fans. And while you're at it, cross you're fingers. Why? Corey Partridge is healthy.
"I feel great," Partridge said. "This is the best I've felt all season."
A fixture in the athletic training room for much of his career, Partridge has participated in the Falcons' last three games after suffering a sprained ankle in the season opener which added to his long list of setbacks.
Before the high ankle sprain it was a knee injury that caused Partridge to sit out the first two games of the 2006 season. The year before, Partridge, then a redshirt freshman, labored through a shoulder injury that never seemed to heal.
"Corey's a real strong kid and I just admire the way he bounces back and keeps playing through pain," cornerback Kenny Lewis said. "He really does bleed orange and brown."
You can label Partridge injury prone or even fragile. But don't call him soft.
Soft players don't run almost all of their routes across the middle of the field, in front of hulking linebackers and fearless safeties eagerly waiting to leave an unforgiving impression on a helpless receiver. And soft players aren't typically voted captains before their junior seasons.
Maybe Partridge, at 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, isn't durable. But opponents are more inclined to break one of his bones than his will.
"It's definitely frustrating," Partridge said. "I haven't had any season long injuries which is a great thing, but the little ones sometimes can be the most annoying ones because you feel like you can almost play but you're a step slow. I just play as hard as I can and sometimes you're in the wrong spot at the wrong time."
Despite missing the Michigan State game, and the second half against Minnesota, Partridge is second on the team with 34 catches and 303 yards entering Saturday's game at Miami.
Partridge was named the BG's offensive player of the game two weeks ago against Western Kentucky when he finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on nine catches.
"He had a nice game and he's really banged up," BG coach Gregg Brandon said two days later. "He's got the ankle, which is getting better, and he's got a quad contusion too. His thumb got jammed between two helmets if you can imagine how that would feel."
Not that anyone wants to.
Partridge's high school coach at Loveland, Chuck Warden, recalls several days when Partridge had to abstain from practicing because of various bumps and pains. Partridge, though, never missed a game.
"He's always been a kid that's had to overcome that just by being a pretty tough kid," Warden said.
Warden, who teaches at Loveland along with Partridge's mother, Kelly, said the most frustrated he has seen Corey was after the Minnesota game when Partridge sprained his ankle on a punt return. Partridge, since returning from the injury, no longer returns punts or holds for kicks.
"Corey's always been a tough kid," said Warden, now the offensive coordinator at New Richmond. "He was constantly having to overcome injury issues - ankles, hand or neck. He was kind of dealing with the same injury issues that he's been dealing with at Bowling Green."
Partridge was instrumental in Loveland qualifying for the playoffs during his junior season - when the Tigers lost in the first round to a Dayton Chaminade-Julienne team led by BG quarterback Anthony Turner. Partridge split time at receiver and running back as a sophomore and junior before moving to quarterback during his senior year.
But it was cornerback where Partridge began his college career, an idea that was rethought just one week into his redshirt season. If not for Loveland attending a football camp at BG prior to Partridge's senior season, Partridge's abilities may have gone unnoticed by the Falcons staff. But Brandon offered Partridge a scholarship within the first couple days of camp after Partridge was the fastest of more than 400 players.
"I truly believe that had we not come to camp and had they not seen Corey in person that they would have passed him over in the recruiting process," Warden said.
This summer it was Partridge acting as camp counselor back at Loveland, a Division I program near Cincinnati. Members of the Loveland football team are planning to attend Saturday's game in Oxford when BG (3-2, 1-0) begins a four-game stretch against Mid-American Conference East opponents.
In Partridge, they will see a style of play not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
"You have to be a little pest," Partridge said. "You have to be a gnat at a barbecue, just trying to always be in somebody's face. You have to make them think more about you than what they're supposed to be doing."
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