HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Evan McKelvey looked last season like a linebacker primed to make a major contribution to the Marshall football team in a short period of time. To his, and the Thundering Herd's, dismay, his 2012 season was just that - short.
Cut down just three games into the year with a season-ending knee injury, McKelvey had a long, hard road returning to the field. But the younger brother of former Herd great Omar Brown is back in pads and trying to build on last season's impressive start.
In just his second season on the Herd roster, McKelvey showed he had a pretty good ability to sniff out ball carriers. He recorded 14 tackles in the Herd's first three games, a 4.7-tackle-per-game average. That's a per-game mark that ranked seventh on Marshall's defense last year.
But while covering a kickoff in Marshall's 27-24 loss to Ohio last season, McKelvey tore both his anterior cruiciate ligament and meniscus. His season was over.
"When I did it, it was the worst pain ever," McKelvey said. "After I got up, after a couple of minutes, I was ready to go back in. I didn't feel it anymore, but I felt that if I tried any juking or anything, my knee would pop right out."
The pain subsided shortly after the actual injury, but following surgery, the struggle to get back to full health wasn't easy, McKelvey said.
"The recovery process, man, I wouldn't put anybody through that," he said. "The first couple months were the worst time I'd ever been through. The trainers did a really good job helping me out with that. Now I'm happy I got through it, that's all I can say."
New linebackers coach Adam Fuller isn't surprised that the 6-foot-1, 210-pound redshirt junior made a full recovery. McKelvey has a personality, he said, that is good for the position room and a good nature that has earned the respect of his teammates.
"I don't know if Evan's ever had a bad day," Fuller said.
The days when McKelvey put himself through grueling rehabilitation were no picnic, but that he got through them doesn't surprise Fuller either. The choice to make that comeback comes even before the injury. It comes from an innate passion for the sport, and that's something Fuller sees in McKelvey.
"You play the sport, you're going to get hurt," Fuller said. "You might get injured. If you do, you have to make a decision - you stop playing or you get back and get better. And that's what Evan chose to do and it's showing up. He's healthy now, he's running around and he's playing well."
McKelvey admits he's had some rust to knock off. That's to be expected after missing nine games in 2012 and the entire spring season to rehab and recovery. But with each crack of the pads, the linebacker feels a little more rust falling off after every practice.