BOWLING GREEN -- As the Bowling Green State University football team went through its spring practice schedule last month, fullback Zach Akenberger found himself in a strange position.
The Bowling Green High School graduate was on the sidelines, watching.
"I've never had an injury that forced me to miss even a practice," he Akenberger said. "I've played hockey since I was five, so it's been weird [having to watch].
"I haven't been able to run for six months now, so that has been the weirdest part of all."
The reason he didn't take part in spring drills with his teammates was a lower right leg injury that occurred in October when the Falcons played at Temple. "I was blocking the middle linebacker," he said. "The defensive end got in, and the tackle [blocked] him -- and they both rolled on my leg when I was engaged in a block. The bones just snapped right there."
Akenberger suffered a total break of his tibia and fibula, the two bones in his lower leg, and nerve damage where the bone rubbed against the skin of his leg before it was set.
A cast was put on the leg so he could come home from the game, which was played in Philadelphia. Once the swelling eased a rod was inserted into the leg during surgery.
"Within a week, I was rehabbing," Akenberger said. "There was a lot of pain, but I was pushed [to start the rehab] pretty quickly. … Once they put the rod in I was ready to go."
The early rehab focused on returning the leg's range of motion and flexibility. Recently he has undergone a daily two-hour grind of physical therapy that concentrated on regaining balance as well as strength.
"I'm working on my balance and doing a lot of strength exercises," he said. "I'm just trying to get my strength back."
While the progress has been slower than the 5-9, 197-pound redshirt senior would hope, Akenberger has made impressive steps recovering from an injury that usually sidelines people for at least a full year.
"I feel in the past couple of weeks I've made progress," he said. "The bone is starting to grow, and the limp is starting to go away. I feel as if I'm making progress right now.
"The next step is to get to walking perfectly normally, since I still have the limp. Then I want to get to jogging as quickly as I can.
"The long-term goal is to play my senior year. Most people say it takes a year to return, which would put me in the middle of my senior year. My goal is to make it back; that has been my goal from Day 1."
The injury also has opened his eyes to the plight of others who have trouble walking.
"It's so frustrating, because if you want to go somewhere fast you have to drive or get a ride," Akenberger said. "Even going to class [is hard]. I respect people who use a wheelchair; I don't know how they do it."
Will Akenberger be able to return to the football field before the clock winds down on his senior season?
"I'm always a confident person," he said. "Once I set my mind to something, I pride myself on getting it done. I'll get back out there [on the football field]."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6481.