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Ikegwuonu hopes to rebound after knee injury

INDIANAPOLIS -- It is every prospect's worst nightmare -- getting seriously injured while training for the combine.

For Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu those dreaded fears materialized.

On Jan. 22, Ikegwuonu suffered a significant knee injury while performing a drill at the Perfect Competition training facility in Davie, Florida.

He tore his anterior cruciate ligament, while also partially tearing his medial collateral ligament and dislocating his knee.

In a moment's time he went from pulling a practice sled to wondering if his dreams of playing professional football were over.

"It happened so fast," said Ikegwuonu, who still attended this year's combine so he could interview with teams. "I've never cried like that before in my life. You just lay there and you think about your family and your career and I've never had an injury before like that. Me not knowing very much about knee injuries and stuff like that I didn't think that ACLs were as commonplace as they are now and I really thought that my career might be over."

"It was a really hard day for me."

The injury caused him to wonder whether he had, indeed, made the right choice to forgo his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin and apply for the draft.

Prior to the injury he was considered to be one of the better cornerback prospects in the draft and had thought he could work his way up the list with impressive workouts.

With that opportunity gone and no college to fall back on, doubts began to form in his mind and he remembers thinking "Did I make the right decision?"

"I regretted it for a little while. Thinking that maybe this was God telling me I didn't make the right decision. Wishing I could go back to school, wishing I was back in school."

But with some time to reflect and with improving medical reports, Ikegwuonu has made peace with his decision and is now convinced he made the right move.

"It's been about a month now, I'm back on my feet as you can see. I'm confident I made the right decision. I'll be back in six months. I've healed up really good given the severity of the injury and I just want to take it one day at a time."

Though his stock is certain to fall, it is not unheard of for teams to take chances on injured players.

The most obvious example is that of running back Willis McGahee. McGahee suffered an ACL tear in the Fiesta Bowl and was unable to workout prior to the draft.

Despite the injury, the Bills still took McGahee with the 23rd overall pick and he has had a successful NFL career.

More recently, the Chargers took linebacker Anthony Waters in the third round of the 2007 draft.

Unlike Ikegwuonu, Waters recovered enough from his torn ACL to work out at his Pro Day, but sat out his entire rookie season while rehabbing and recovering fully from the injury.

Chargers defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell said he expects Waters to be a major contributor this upcoming season and said if you go back and look at the college tapes and get a complete medical report from the doctors, you can find a heck of a player who may fall to you because of his injury.

The Chargers have been among the teams most willing to take on medical risk and also hit a home run with Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie who had missed much of his college career with injuries.

Several general managers said that injured players are obviously behind a bit, but that if they have elite talent they still hold value.

"You just evaluate him from what you have. You may have go back to the tapes you have from the past. ... But you really don't want to forget about guys like that," said Giants general manager Jerry Reese.

Added Cardinals general manager Rod Graves, "It depends on the caliber of the player. If you really think he's worth taking the risk not only from a talent standpoint but a character standpoint. I think you set a treshhold as to where you'd be willing to accept the risk related to that player and if you're comfortable with that and feel it's the right decision, then you make it."

The challenge now for Ikegwuonu is making himself so attractive to teams that they are willing to take that risk.

He plans on doing so by impressing teams with his interview skills and personality.

"One of the most important things I was told that we do here is the team specific interviews," said Ikegwuonu. "I'm just going to try to impress them as much as I can. A lot of people say I have a great personality, a low-key, down-to-Earth guy, great linguistic skill and stuff like that. I'm just going to try to present myself as a good person and hopefully my film will speak for itself and my stock won't drop too far."

Former Wisconsin teammate Nick Hayden said when teams look at Ikegwuonu's tapes they will see his talent and that "He was our shutdown corner. Always guarded the best wide receiver of the team we were going against. He's just a good all-around player."

Whether he can become that shutdown corner in the pros and return to perfect health will begin to get determined Feb. 28. The day he undergoes surgery on his knee.

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