Ralph Bolden has unfortunately become an expert in one subject no football player wants to study: rehabbing from a torn ACL.
When the Purdue running back went down in the 2011 regular-season finale against Indiana, he thought to himself, "Let it be anything but my ACL." But in the back of his mind, he already knew the prognosis for his right knee.
Bolden tore the ligament as a senior in high school and then again in the 2010 offseason. Last year's ACL tear cost him a chance to play in the first bowl game of his career and puts his availability for this season in jeopardy. If there's any bright side to things, at least Bolden knew how to go through his rehab.
"I feel like I've recovered a lot quicker from this one than the other two," he told ESPN.com. "I don't know if it's because I've been through it and know what to do or if it's the surgery, but I feel like it's been a lot quicker.
"The key is pretty much, being the third time, I know how far to push it. When I feel something in my leg, I know what it is. I know what I need to do to strengthen my legs."
Bolden has been limited thus far in the Boilermakers' preseason practice. He is mostly doing individual drills and only occasionally takes snaps in full team work. Bolden says he's wearing a bulky brace on his right knee and is waiting for a thinner version to come in so he'll have better flexibility and movement.
He experienced some problems with the knee in June and July but says he feels "pretty good, pretty strong" right now. But his timetable for a return to action remains up in the air.
"I'm not trying to rush it," he said. "I'm just taking my time. It's just whenever I start to feel more comfortable, whenever my body is ready."
Bolden, a senior, would seem to be a strong candidate to earn a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA if he were to take a medical redshirt this season. Yet he's determined not to sit out any more.
"I know I'll be ready," he said.
He led the team with 935 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in 2009 and paced the Boilers with 674 yards and six touchdowns last season. He had 54 rushing yards and 64 receiving yards in the Indiana game before getting injured, helping Purdue win and clinch a bowl bid. But all he could do was watch the Little Caesars Bowl and give some words of motivation to backup Akeem Shavers.
"I just told him to bring the [MVP] trophy back," Bolden said. "And it was crazy, too, because he went and did it."
Shavers ran for 149 yards in the win over Central Michigan. He and sophomore Akeem Hunt are the top two experienced options at running back for the Boilermakers while Bolden is out.
"We're looking pretty stable at running back right now," Bolden said. "Both Akeems are looking good. They've got the playbook down, they've got the protections down. They're doing pretty well in every aspect of the offense. When I get back out there, there will just be another person people will have to worry about."
And Bolden vows to be back this season when the time is right. But he's enough of an expert in the field of ACL rehab to know when that time will be.