Duke TE Deaver working back after 2nd ACL tear in 3 years

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) At least Braxton Deaver knew what to expect during rehab. That's the rare bit of good news in tearing another knee ligament.

The 23-year-old, sixth-year tight end at Duke is working his way back from his second serious knee injury in a three-year span.

''There's all sorts of little bumps you go through, whether it's tendonitis or soreness in your hamstrings,'' Deaver said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''If you hadn't done it before, you'd be kind of scared. But these things are going to happen.''

Deaver enters his final season as one of the program's top veterans - for what he's endured on the field and in the trainer's room.

The Charlotte native missed the 2012 season after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament and later breaking the patella in that knee. Then during preseason practice last August, he ran a 10-yard route during a one-on-one drill, threw a new head fake that he says he hadn't worked on enough - and the force of the move tore his right ACL.

''I really stepped hard outside my frame, stuck my unsupported step and tried to go back to my left,'' Deaver said. ''My leg went in and it just tore immediately.''

After that first knee surgery, he learned to pace himself. That proved a valuable lesson the second time around.

Trying to rush the process simply wasn't an option - ''you don't feel great until about 10 months, honestly,'' he said.

So instead of worrying, he poured his energy into coming back strong this year. Last November, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility.

''Some people really get ahead of themselves - `Oh, I'll be back in a month,''' Deaver said. ''It's not about that. It's about getting better today, and I've really adhered to that process, and this is probably the strongest I've ever comeback from an injury.''

Deaver moved past the 10-month mark in June and is running full speed, lifting weights and powering through the Blue Devils' self-workouts this offseason.

The goal is to get back to the form he showed in 2013, when he caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns during Duke's run to a division championship and the Atlantic Coast Conference title game.

His return gives the Blue Devils two proven tight ends. David Reeves filled in for Deaver last year and caught 13 balls for 103 yards with three TDs while helping Duke reach its third straight bowl game. No other ACC team has two tight ends with as many combined career touchdowns.

Their presence will be a huge help for an offense that lost its top two receivers - Jamison Crowder and Issac Blakeney - to graduation and is breaking in a new starting quarterback Thomas Sirk.

Perhaps more importantly, the Blue Devils want Deaver to be a mentor to the younger players who weren't around for the perennial struggles. Duke endured 18 consecutive losing seasons before going 10-4 two years ago.

''I have to really be a mentor,'' Deaver said. ''(The underclassmen) need to understand that we didn't get here just out of nowhere. ... The transition we made was because of the work the folks who've come before us have put in. The structure's been built on the sweat and blood of (former players) Ross Cockrell and Matt Daniels and Kenny Anunike.

''They kind of expect that from me. I want everybody to know that when it gets hard, get on my back. I want to be that guy... I'm going to block my butt off and I'm going to try to catch and many balls as I can.''

Deaver, who graduated in May with a sociology degree, will finish his master's program in liberal sciences in December. That's around the same time he hopes to lead the Blue Devils to consecutive bowl No. 4.

That would make his second and final comeback even sweeter.

''I've had 11 1/2 months before I put a helmet back on, and put as much work as I could to get my hamstrings strong, getting my quads strong, because this is my last shot,'' he said.

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Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap

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