There was a time when Terrell Chestnut
was sitting in his hospital bed after his third major surgery wondering if it was even worth it continuing his college football career.
That was in early 2013 after West Virginia’s Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse when he suffered a serious knee injury. Prior to that, he had two surgeries on his labrum – one in high school and another during his freshman year at WVU in 2011.
“You’ve only got one body and at the time when I was in that hospital bed I was 21 years old and I felt like I was 50,” Chestnut said last weekend. “It just wasn’t a good feeling, but I stayed the course and just kept fighting and never gave up.”
“He’s kind of the old man on the team,” added defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “He’s the first guy in for treatment and the last guy to leave every night so his body has taken a beating over the last couple of years. It’s our job to make sure he stays healthy and we get him to the games.”
Asked to go through his injury history, Chestnut just shook his head, “What hasn’t there been?”
It’s enough to make you shake your head, too. It’s also enough to make you wonder how many gifted players through the years have ended up on the bad side of luck?
West Virginia has certainly had its fair share of them.
There was wide receiver Oscar Patrick, who caught a school-record 50 passes as a junior in 1968 before having his senior season and likely NFL career submarined by a serious knee injury in 1969.
Same deal with Garrett Ford, the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 1966 who limped around on a bad foot during his senior season in 1967. That bum foot caused Ford’s premature exit from the NFL in 1968.
In the 1970s, there was Jeff Rice, a highly touted high school running back whose career at West Virginia never took off because of a serious knee injury, one-time Oklahoma-Penn State-Ohio State recruiting target Mike Dawson, whose bad knees prematurely ended his promising college career in 1981.
A bad leg also kept wide receiver Darrell Miller from becoming the “coast-to-coast” threat that his Philadelphia high school nickname implied. And then there was Damon Cogdell … yes, the same Damon Cogdell, who is now coaching WVU’s defensive ends.
Cogdell was once an up-and-coming linebacker at WVU whose professional aspirations were wiped out during a single play at the Carrier Dome in 1997 when he seriously injured his hip.
Charles Fisher was Cincinnati’s cover corner of the future in 1999 until he went one way and his left knee went another as he tried to cover Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson. It was the very first game of his professional career and it turned out to be his last.
Yes, there is a Marcus Dupree (the best that never was) for every Marcus Allen in the risky sport of football.
Those from Pottstown, Pa. who watched Chestnut tear up the football field at Pottstown High wondered if he wasn’t headed down a similar path at West Virginia University – another one of those coulda-shoulda-woulda guys forever lost to history.
“You never know what life’s going to throw at you,” said Chestnut. “It taught me a lot about myself. It taught me how to overcome adversity. I’ve overcome a lot of adverse situations in my life before, but to keep getting injured over and over since coming out of high school, especially since I was so highly touted, it made me really appreciate everything.”
Chestnut certainly appreciates the fine line between having a productive football career and being completely lost to history. A lot of times it’s just a matter of luck.
“There are so many people in this world who are not blessed with the abilities that we have or can’t do some things we do because they are disabled,” he explained. “I’ve been able to feel how it was not being able to play the game and it makes me appreciate it so much more.”
Chestnut also appreciates the long talk he had some time ago with his position coach Brian Mitchell, who bears similar scar tissue from an injury-plagued football career. Mitchell felt that he needed to give Chestnut a boost.
“He told me to just keep fighting,” said Chestnut. “That’s the biggest thing – keep fighting. Do what you can do one day and try and go a little farther the next. That’s what I try and do each and every day, whether I’m sore, whether I’m sick or whatever.”
Mitchell’s pep talk helped push Chestnut through the various stages of rehabilitation, from wearing a non-contact green jersey to going full-go with the rest of his teammates during practice to now once again being counted on by the Mountaineer coaching staff as a possible starter.
Presently, Chestnut is locked in a tight battle with senior Travis Bell
for the other starting cornerback position opposite rising sophomore Daryl Worley
“It’s been a great competition,” said Chestnut. “Every day we’ve just got to come out there and make plays and make our reps count. With Worley out there we know he has great upside so we just want to go out there and compliment him in his game because he’s such a special player.”
Chestnut thinks he still has upside, too, even though he’s now one of the older guys in the locker room as a redshirt junior. All he has to show for his collegiate career so far are three career starts, 16 tackles and a couple of pass breakups.
“Wherever they need me. Wherever I can make an impact,” he said of his chances of seeing significant playing time this season. “Whether it’s at corner or whether it’s on special teams, it’s all about accepting your role to help this team win.
“I think I had a pretty good camp,” he added. “But I still have a lot of work to do if I want to be able to compete with the big dogs.”
He will likely get an opportunity to run with the big dogs down in Atlanta on Saturday, August 30.