INDIANAPOLIS – Marty Huegel has been helping Florida student athletes rehab injuries for 35 years.
What Huegel witnessed from Antonio Morrison last year was something he had never encountered.
Rehabbing LCL and ACL injuries after a January 2015 bowl game, Morrison had two surgeries (six weeks apart) and went on to not only play his senior season, but lead Florida in tackles.
"In all the years that I've done this, I've never quite encountered anything like this or someone like him," Florida's director of rehabilitation Marty Huegel said in this ESPN.com article detailing Morrison’s remarkable recovery. "For lack of a better term, it's the most amazing thing I've ever seen."
…Privately, the primary trainers working with Morrison throughout his rehab, wondered if Morrison would ever fully recover. They just wanted him to walk normally again and eventually play with his kids later in life.
Morrison surpassed his trainers' goals for him in just about every session, sometimes weeks ahead of schedule. He progressed at a terrifyingly rapid pace and four months after his second surgery, Morrison was sprinting ... at full speed. He was squatting 500 pounds. He was 20 pounds heavier and cutting and jumping with zero limitations.
"I can't put a finger on it, and there's no way to describe it scientifically, but he heals differently than most," Paul Silvestri, associate director of sports health for Florida's football team said. "He doesn't develop soreness. It's a different deal."
After a complete evaluation in early July, Huegel found Morrison's knee to be "stone-cold normal, if not better" in terms of motion, strength and his ability to jump; all the things necessary for Morrison to play football in August.
"That was sort of frightening," Huegel said.
Less than 10 months removed from two major knee surgeries, Morrison would go on to start all 15 games last season---producing another 100-tackle season to become the first Florida player since 1992-93 to record consecutive 100-tackle campaigns.
The ACL and LCL injuries from last January's Birmingham Bowl put any pro career on hold for Morrison.
Preparing for this year's draft process hit a snag for Morrison due to a staph infection, causing him to miss the Combine and have a port placed in his chest for a month and a half.
"When we talk about getting mindset guys and guys that love to play this game and guys that play with great passion and great energy, the great defensive players that we've been fortunate to be around, this guy is special," Chuck Pagano says of Morrison.
"The staph infection that he got, he's sitting there and had to have a port put in his chest. Three times a day they came in and put antibiotics in him for six weeks and then he got the port pulled out four days before his pro day. They told him, 'Do not do your pro day.' The guy is such a great competitor he said, 'I do not care what I run. It doesn't matter. Just put the tape on and whoever takes me is going to get a great football player,' and he used some other adjectives that I will not use in this room (laughs). He went in there basically on four days after laying on his back and fighting off that staph infection because he had a couple screws taken out of his foot, I believe is what he told me. The guy is a great competitor. You just put the tape on and after a couple plays it's like, 'Wow.' He's a wow guy and he popped on the tape. Believe me, whatever time you have on him, he does not play that. We've been around a lot of guys that run 4.4 and play at 4.8, so this guy plays a lot faster than his timed 40 time. It'll be great, great competition when he comes in here."
Morrison will come to Indy and enter the open starting competition at inside linebacker, next to D'Qwell Jackson.
The last trip to Indy for Morrison came at the conclusion of his top-30 visits.
It was then where the Chicago native connected with Chuck Pagano, displaying the mindset the Colts are looking to create on their defense.
"I'm tough and I'm physical," the 6-1, 232-pound Morrison said of his style.
"I love the contact part of the game. That's why I play the game. I just love hitting people. I love contact and I just love the bond you build with people for a common goal and that's winning."