- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Temple receiver C.J. Hammond goes into his final season without much on his career stat sheet.
Injuries have essentially derailed his hopes the last few seasons. But 2012 is going to be different. Hammond feels as good as he has felt in two years. Coaches say he is having a terrific offseason, particularly when it comes to improving his speed, quickness, leadership and understanding of the offense.
So it is probably safe to say that Hammond is an under-the-radar player worth paying attention to when the season begins.
"It has been a tough four years," Hammond said in a recent phone interview. "I've been through a lot. When I first came in, we barely won any games, so to see the change now, it's amazing. As for me, I always kept a positive mind-set, stayed humble, kept working hard. I'm having the best spring and offseason than I've ever had. It's all about staying healthy now and everything will fall into place."
Receiver is a position with plenty of unknowns for the Owls, who lose their the top three statistical leaders in catches and receiving yards. So there is ample opportunity for somebody like Hammond to step up and take advantage of the opportunity. Coach Steve Addazio mentioned last month that receiver is an area with plenty yet to be proven.
Hammond said the mind-set on the team has been completely different this offseason -- not only because players know they need to get better, but because they are looking forward to playing in the Big East.
"We've raised our intensity to get to that level of competition," Hammond said.
For Hammond in particular, the intensity also has been ratcheted up a notch because he knows this is his final year to reach his goals. Hammond was expected to be a contributor in 2010, but he tore the ACL in his left knee during preseason camp and he missed the season. He returned last season, but only played in seven games as his knee was never really 100 percent.
He has one career reception for 18 yards, and it came in the second week of last season.
"I wasn't able to do the things I was able to do before I got hurt," Hammond said. "I wasn't the player I thought I would be when I got back. It was a little frustrating, but I stayed positive, stayed humble and I knew my time would come."
Many players have said that it takes over a year for a player recovering from an ACL injury to feel normal again. Hammond says it takes much longer.
"I think it takes two years to really get back to the player you were," Hammond said. "The first year, you've been out of football for a while, wearing a knee brace, you're physically healthy but the hard part is getting over that mental aspect, that your knee is fine. Now I'm feeling the best I've felt, and I'm more confident than ever.
"I have no excuses now. I'm ready for it."