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Noah Cain Is Healthy and Ready to Run Again

The Penn State back struggled, physically and mentally, after his 2020 injury. Ultimately, he said, that made him better.

Penn State running back Noah Cain felt goosebumps Friday as he returned to the practice field, nearly 10 months after his career detoured against Indiana. Since then, Cain's mother has stressed to him that everything, even season-ending injuries in a season-opener, happens for a reason.

Cain didn't quite want to hear that last fall. He understands better now.

"As time went on, I finally saw growth in myself, mentally and physically," Cain said Saturday. "A lot of things that I've grown from, I wouldn't have gotten better at had I not went through my injury. It's just a blessing right now. I'm so excited to be out here."

Cain, among the most intriguing players of Penn State's reconstructed 2021 offense, confidently declared himself to be "100 percent" healed from the lower-body injury he sustained in the first quarter against Indiana. Cain has showcased his fitness and footwork in a series of training videos that made coaches, teammates and fans anticipate a dominant season.

Ja'Juan Seider, Penn State's running backs coach, is right there with them. When the Lions opened training camp Friday, Seider saw a rejuvenated back, one who still carries those freshman-year skills that led him to score eight rushing touchdowns. Seider also saw a running back who put his season of rehab to good use.

"He looked like Noah," Seider said. "He looked like an older version of Noah. He's very confident in what he's doing. There's no glitch in his running style. He looks powerful, he looks quick, he looks decisive, which is what you want to see out of a guy in his third year."

Cain, who carried the ball just three times before sustaining the injury, said the few months after that were the hardest of his football career. Cain was a marquee recruit out of Texas, by way of Florida's IMG Academy, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman at Penn State. With Journey Brown having to retire, Cain was going to be the centerpiece of Penn State's run game in 2020.

Instead, Cain went through rehab, with Brown and his teammates providing voices of optimism. On Saturday, Cain was candid about how the first major injury of his career affected him.

"Mentally, it was draining," he said. "The first 2-and-a-half months was the lowest point for me because I'd never had an injury of this magnitude. It was very uncomfortable, and it hurt a lot. A lot of days just discouraged me. There was a lot of pain, but the training staff and coach Franklin just kept me motivated. Every day they were in my ear, just letting me know it was going to get better."

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His mom did the same thing. Tonya Cain said, "You're going through this for a reason." Early on, a frustrated Cain wanted to know why. Now, Cain says he understands.

"Maturity," he said. "Physically, last year I was ready, but mentally, to play consistently on the college level, I wasn't there yet. I feel like I'm there now. I'm confident mentally and physically."

Cain has the potential to become one of the Big Ten's leading backs, though he has to stay healthy. He hasn't played a full season at Penn State, having missed three games as a freshman with a late-season injury. He returned for the 2019 Cotton Bowl to run for 92 yards and two touchdowns against Memphis.

"He's the guy that I definitely think we can win the Big Ten with," Seider said earlier this year, "but also he's a guy we need for a whole season."

Cain said he's as fit and as fast as he has been, weighing 217 pounds with a chiseled lower body capable of running with power and finesse. He also has a strong group of backs who can help shoulder the load.

Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said that, ideally, he likes to have at least three backs fill his rotation. Seider hinted that multi-back sets are an option. Cain figures to be part of every plan.

"Just being back out [Friday] with the team, it felt like Little League again," Cain said. "I've been having so much excitement and enjoyment and gratitude about being out here. My perspective on a lot of things has changed. I'm so appreciative of being out here and I'm ready to get to work."

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