TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State center Alec Eberle isn’t exactly sure when he tore the labrum in his right hip. The junior from Mechanicsville, Va., knows it happened during a summer workout in 2016, but he wasn’t positive something was amiss until preseason camp.
Eberle knows exactly when he tore the labrum in his left hip, though.
Facing second-and-10 in the second quarter at Syracuse on Nov. 19, Eberle snapped the ball to quarterback Deondre Francois. Syracuse defensive tackle Kendall Coleman bull rushed. To stop a bull rush, an offensive lineman must anchor, planting his back foot and driving his hips forward to stop the momentum of the charging defender. So Eberle planted his left foot—just as he had thousands of times before.
“I felt my hip just give out,” Eberle says.
Coleman lifted Eberle and drove him back toward Francois. Eberle remembers “getting dumped,” but he didn’t. He wound up on his feet seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. To avoid the Coleman-Eberle mass racing toward him, Francois had stepped up in the pocket and directly into a sack. Video from the game shows Eberle walking gingerly back to the line of scrimmage, but he didn’t tap his helmet and ask to come out. He didn’t even look at the sideline. He crouched back over the ball—hampered by two labral tears—and kept on playing.
Eberle did not finish out the season because the tears were manageable injuries. Did they hurt? Hell yes they hurt. Eberle finished the season because he felt he had to. The Seminoles were banged up across the offensive line, and he didn’t want to be the reason the blocking got even worse. “I knew my team needed me,” says Eberle, who is back playing again after surgery to repair both hips. “So I had to think it was all in my head.”
It wasn’t in his head, though. The pain in his hips was quite real. It kept him from squatting—which keeps the biggest muscles in the body strong. It limited him at practice. It limited him in games, but even hobbled he remained the Seminoles’ best option at center. Outside the program, Eberle got blamed for some of the ills on the line of an offense that finished 106th in the nation in sacks allowed, with 2.77 a game. Inside the program, they were simply amazed Eberle kept coming to play when most players would have shut down. “They want to beat him up,” Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett says, “but nobody will know the pain he went through.”
Eberle describes that pain like this: “Every time I got out of my stance to do a pass set, it felt like two knives in my hips.” How did he keep playing? Remember that mind game he mentioned? It went like this. He told himself “you’re not going to die.” When he didn’t, it emboldened him to play more. Eberle had more micro versions of “you’re not going to die” as well. There was “anyone can do anything for a game” and its smaller cousin “anyone can do anything for four plays.”
After the Seminoles beat Michigan in the Orange Bowl, Eberle and the Seminoles’ medical staff worked to fix the root problem. The labral tears happened because Eberle’s hip bones were too thick. The hip, like the shoulder, is a ball-and-socket joint. The round femoral head (the tip of the femur) is supposed to roll inside the hip bone to produce a full range of motion. The thickness of Eberle’s bones didn’t allow the femoral head to roll properly. “The trainers would try to stretch me out,” he says, “and my leg would just stop.” This created pressure on the labrum, the cartilage that rings the socket. If he kept playing, he was destined to tear them. And he did.
So on Feb. 6, Eberle had surgery in New York to correct the issues. He says doctors told him most people have surgery on one hip at a time, but given his pain tolerance during the season, Eberle was a candidate to have both fixed at the same time. He stayed in the hospital on the night of the surgery. The following night he stayed at his sister’s house. His mother was in another room, ready to help if he needed anything.
That night, Eberle’s pain medicine wore off. He could only scoot a few centimeters at a time, and he couldn’t figure out how to get his mother’s attention. She assumed he was asleep, so she was trying to let him rest. So he laid in bed and suffered for six hours. Eberle thought back to all those times it felt like someone stabbed in his hips. This felt like someone taking an ax to them. So he told himself the same thing that got him through the season.
You’re not going to die.
You’re not going to die.
You’re not going to die.
That night, Eberle wrote a note to himself in his phone. The result looked like an E.E. Cummings poem—if E.E. Cummings played offensive line and felt like his hips were about to explode.
You been the tough guy your whole life
you won’t stop now
you’ll be back better than ever
and that’s a promise.
HOLD FAST STAY TRUE
Eberle found the note in his phone about two months ago. He’d forgotten he’d written it, but the reminder motivated him even more to get himself ready for this season. After the surgery, he wasn’t supposed to walk for a month. He walked in a week. “They said that was weird,” Eberle says. When he began squatting again in May, he started with the naked 45-pound bar. Within two weeks, he could squat 350 pounds. Since then, his numbers are better than they ever were before the injury. When he began doing football drills again, he realized he could open his hips without turning his torso. It took some time to get accustomed to what everyone else considers normal. “The best way I can explain it is like a newborn horse or a deer” learning how to walk, Eberle says. The 6' 4" Eberle will play this season at about 305 pounds. Last year, unable to do the lifts required for weight maintenance, Eberle dropped to 285.
Meanwhile, Eberle and his linemates are determined to fix the issues that plagued them last season. Eberle insists that many of the sacks weren’t a case of the Seminoles getting dominated physically. They happened because of poor communication or poor decisions by the linemen. “Going back and watching games from last year is really frustrating,” Eberle says. “That’s why this year is so exciting. We’re so much more in tune.”
During a team meeting earlier this month, Eberle stood up and called out the entire line—himself included. Trickett had coached the linemen properly, Eberle told his teammates. The injuries of last season had forced players into action, and while it wasn’t pretty to watch, it built depth for this season. There are no more excuses for Francois to be on the ground. “Now,” Eberle says, “it is our turn to repay.”
Eberle appreciates the way Francois handled last season. Then a redshirt freshman, Francois could have flown off the handle after the line’s mistakes got him mauled. But he never did. “We let him get beat up,” Eberle says, “but he never once looked down on us.”
For his part, Francois understood the issues on the line. He also appreciated the pain Eberle endured to protect him and tried to follow Eberle’s example. “He’s playing through,” Francois says. “I have to play through. He’s putting it all on the line for me, so I have to put it all on the line for him.”
Just as he predicted, Eberle didn’t die. Now he’s stronger than ever. That could be a huge boost for the unit that could be the difference between just any season and a championship season for the Seminoles. “I have the capability of anchoring the middle of the line,” he says. “I have the capability of doing what I need to do. Once the middle firms up, everything gets better.”
A Random Ranking
This week’s topic is reader-generated—as all the best ones are.
Instead of one, here are 10.
1. The Old 96er, The Great Outdoors
2. The Ziggy Piggy, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
3. Clemenza’s Tomato Sauce and Meatballs, The Godfather
4. Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Julie and Julia
5. The prison dinner in Goodfellas
6. What she’s having from Katz’s Delicatessen, When Harry Met Sally
7. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, The Harry Potter Series
8. Pizza The Hut, Spaceballs
9. Ratatouille, Ratatouille
10. A $5 shake, Pulp Fiction
Three and Out
1. Florida has suspended seven players, including top receiver Antonio Callaway, for the season-opener against Michigan. The reported reason involves making improper charges using a student ID. (Students can load money onto the cards and then use them like a bank debit card on campus.) As of this point, there have been no charges filed, so we may never see any kind of police report that details specifically what happened. Absent that information, it’s difficult to tell if the one-game punishment is appropriate or too lenient.
We do know that Florida will be without its most dynamic receiver against the Wolverines, but unlike the previous two years, the Gators may have the depth at that position to handle Callaway’s absence. Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland came on at the end of last season. Junior Dre Massey was supposed to play a huge role in the Gators’ offense last year and tore his ACL on the opening kickoff. He’s back. Freshman James Robinson just arrived on campus, but he could be pushed into action sooner.
The real question remains who will throw to those receivers. Contrary to popular belief, Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire wasn’t handed the job immediately. He is competing at practices against redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and senior Luke Del Rio, and there is no favorite at the moment. It should be noted that the Gators had Callaway when they played Florida State and Alabama the past two seasons, and they still couldn’t move the ball effectively. For Florida, it still will come down to whether the Gators can get better quarterback play.
2. Notre Dame and Wisconsin are holding a big scheduling announcement that will include officials from the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. Sorry, home-and-home fans. At least these games will be played in two of the least sterile NFL stadiums.
3. You’ve seen plenty of clips of players toting huge weight in this space. But the guys designing the workouts can still get after it, too. Here’s Clemson strength coach Joey Batson, who has been a college strength coach for 32 years, deadlifting 500 pounds.
What’s Eating Andy?
It stinks for Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy, who will miss his senior season because of a torn ACL suffered last week in practice. Cichy worked all offseason to come back from the torn pectoral muscle that cut last season short only to see this season end before it began.
What’s Andy Eating?
The woman at the table to my right looked at the canoe-shaped object that had just arrived at my table. Then she looked at her friend. Then she looked at me.
“We need,” she said, “to take a picture of your meat.”
I never expected to hear that sentence in my life, but I also had never had such an impressive display of charred bovine musculature arrayed before me on something that looked like a small personal water conveyance. Sure, I’ve eaten some delicious steaks. There’s the Fabulous Filet at Charley’s in Tampa in Orlando, a dry-aged, 20-ounce, center-cut masterpiece that can be sliced with a fork. There was this beautiful, rare 64-ounce tomahawk ribeye at Ruffino’s in Baton Rouge.
All those previous steaks were limited by cut, though. Even the porterhouse only offers the filet and the strip. The Asado Platter at Pittsburgh’s Gaucho Parrilla Argentina does not force diners into a carnivorous Sophie’s choice. It comes with healthy portions of flank, sirloin, filet, ribeye and strip. It costs $50, and it can feed four normal-sized adults, two extraordinarily large adults or one me.
When I ordered at the counter and gave my party size (solo), the cashier announced it to the staff because apparently this sort of order happens pretty rarely. He also announced that I didn’t plan to ask for a doggie bag. This drew a thumbs-up from the guy manning the grill, but that gentleman deserves all the praise. Because if eaten as intended—by multiple people alongside slices of charred toast dunked in chimichurri and beautiful wood-grilled vegetables—the Asado Platter beats the taste and the experience at all but the very best steakhouses for a fraction of the price.
Let’s say you’re splitting it four ways, which will provide enough meat to make the average adult happy. That’s $12.50 a person. Add in sides split four ways and that’s another $10 a person. The place is BYOB—or BYOW—with no corkage fee, so bring two bottles of wine that run $20 at the store (between $80-$100 at a steakhouse) and split that cost four ways. Add a nice tip for the hardworking cooks and staff, and that comes out to a little less than $40 a person for a steak dinner that blows away meals that cost five times as much.
The reason is the steak itself. Each cut is expertly seared and cooked precisely as ordered. I usually order my steak rare, but I wasn’t sure if I should do that in Pittsburgh because in steakhouse parlance the city’s name indicates an extreme form of rare just a shade up from tartare. But the rare I got matched the rare in any other city. The meat isn’t dry aged—which is why Gaucho Parrilla Argentina can charge less than a red velvet-walled steakhouse—but the filet still comes out impossibly tender. The marbling from the ribeye is just as hearty. The flank still dips wonderfully into that house-made chimichurri.
This way, everyone gets to try every cut without the awkwardness of slicing off pieces of each person’s entree. As an added bonus, someone might need to take a picture of your meat. And we can all use that kind of morale boost.