Florida State wide receiver Taiwan Easterling feels that, when the Seminoles line up against Miami on September 7, he will be there – in pads and ready to play.
"I think so," Easterling said. "In my mind, I think so."
That optimism would have made some scratch their heads a few months ago, when Easterling ruptured his Achilles tendon during February conditioning drills. But as he worked out in the June heat, participating in agility drills as he did before the injury, he gained confidence that his return would come sooner than later.
Easterling would have loved to emerge as quarterback Christian Ponder's go-to receiver in the spring season. He is FSU's leading returning receiver, catching 30 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown in 2008, and was one of the team's best across the middle. But the Achilles rupture forced him to become a bystander this spring as he rehabbed his leg.
"It's been real frustrating," he said. "I expected to come out this spring and get better."
Instead he spent those days working his way off of his crutches and back into playing shape. Easterling admitted he wasn't feeling so optimistic in the weeks immediately following his surgery, but he did
get some good news from his doctors, who told him the injury could have been much worse than it was.
He worked to regain strength and flexibility. And, little by little, he was able to toss one crutch aside, then the other. He went from wearing a protective boot and running in the pool to removing that
boot and running on grass.
As the rehab progressed, Easterling stayed as involved as he could. It gets pretty difficult to lead by example when one is physically unable to offer any examples. He offered advice when he could and made sure
to be where he needed to be when he needed to be there, trying to remain accountable as he got back into playing shape.
"It was really tough," he said, "because I couldn't go out and show them what I could do on the field. But I could go out and talk to them a little bit and let them know they need to do little things to get
Easterling was able to make it through most of the drills Tuesday. His strength isn't a problem, he said. He just wants his conditioning to be back to where it used to be.
"That's the only thing I think that's setting me back," he said, "getting my wind back and just getting in shape."
Strength coach Todd Stroud doesn't think that will be a problem for Easterling. After being immobilized and starting the arduous rehab process, Easterling has made significant strides in Stroud's eyes.
"He'll be back, and from what I saw today, I'm not going to worry about him," Stroud said. "He'll be back and ready to roll."
The Seminoles could use that good news. They haven't gotten much of that from the receivers this offseason. The unit has suffered setback after setback – from Preston Parker's dismissal to Corey Surrency losing his fight for another year of eligibility to arrests for Richard Goodman, Cameron Wade and Rod Owens.
Easterling thinks that, despite the stumbles, the Seminoles have a group of wideouts that can make a difference on the field in 2009.
"People are saying we have a lack of depth at wide receiver," he said, "but from what I've seen, we're looking pretty good. We're coming along strong and getting better every day."
Easterling's getting better along with them, something that gives FSU reason to smile.