- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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There has not been much in the way of describing what Pitt center Ryan Turnley endured last season.
Saying he fought through nagging foot injuries is a little like saying Secretariat was a good lil' horse.
Turnley says he never once practiced last season, yet he started all 13 games for the Panthers, and cannot recall missing one snap. He was an occasional bright spot on an otherwise dreary line, but the truth is, not many people can fight through this type of pain.
Torn plantar fascia in both feet left him on crutches half the week, in a walking boot for a few more days, then gingerly participating in walk throughs with the hope he could suit up on Saturdays.
There were days he thought there was no way he could get himself onto the field. Yet he endured with the help of pain medication and an unbending will to push through. Why did he keep going?
"I really can't answer that question," Turnley said in a recent phone interview. "It really worked out. A lot of times, we didn’t think it would work out, or didn’t think I’d be able to play on Saturday. I was very lucky I could play in all the games."
So was Pitt. The Panthers were decimated up front because of injuries to several key players, including Lucas Nix, Matt Rotheram and Chris Jacobson. They had no backup center. Even if Turnley wanted to sit out a week, there was no real way he could because the Panthers simply didn't have anybody to replace him.
"I love playing," he said. "During the game, I didn’t even think about it, I was having fun playing ball. After the game, it was another story."
Turnley initially got hurt against Utah. He says the injury was a shock to the system, particularly because he never really had one as serious during his career. The following week against UConn, he hurt his other foot.
"The thing about the one in the UConn game was that it was on a screen," Turnley recalled. "I was pulling out to the left. I went to cut a linebacker, and it felt like the sole of my shoe ripped out, that’s the sound it made and the feeling I had. I got up on my feet, and I said, 'It happened again. I can’t believe it.' We completed the pass, and we ran a hurry-up no huddle, so I limped my way over to the line and snapped the ball. I didn’t have time to think about it. I went to the sideline, then to the locker room for pain medicine, and came back."
That was the story of his season. But now that another fall practice is about to roll around, Turnley feels better than he has in a long time. He allowed his feet to rest after the bowl game, and they are completely healed. He also got to participate during spring practice and begin practicing in the new offense coach Paul Chryst brought with him from Wisconsin.
The new philosophy will be run-heavy, something that should benefit what was a shaky offensive line last year. What also helps is having Jacobson and Turnley back, two seniors with starting experience. For his part, Turnley named the offensive recipient of the Ed Conway Award, given each year to the most improved players of spring drills.
He also is on the preseason watch list for the Rimington Award, given annually to the top center in college football.
What he is looking forward to the most when spring drills begin is getting more time to perfect what Chryst wants the team to do. All while feeling completely healthy.
"You can study for 10 hours a day, but it’s all about execution and that takes a lot of practice and a lot of work," Turnley said. "Spring ball helped with that -- we got a lot better from beginning to the end. We’re just excited to go out at camp and start working again."