DURHAM — Duke football coach David Cutcliffe was expecting the worst when he walked into that training room on Feb. 8.
Coming off his first season as the starting quarterback, Thomas Sirk had just ruptured his left Achilles tendon — the second ruptured Achilles of his career — and, at the time, it seemed the injury could sideline him for his senior season.
Six months later, it stands not in Cutcliffe’s mind as a day to forget, but rather a triumph to remember.
“I went in the training room, and I have been inspired more as a person since that day, I thought I was going to see a totally crumbled youngster, and I saw a determined young man with a great spirit, great attitude,” Cutcliffe said. “I celebrate that every day.”
Sirk sat through the spring, and as the season drew closer, vowed he’d find a way back onto the field for the Blue Devils in 2016, looking to build on a season where he completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,692 yards and 16 touchdowns.
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Thanks to an aggressive rehabilitation schedule, Sirk was ready to go for Duke’s first practice of the season on Monday night and felt even better during Tuesday night’s workout.
“It’s been great, starting out the first day, just went out there and wanted to see how things really felt,” Sirk said Wednesday. “I felt like I got better from our first practice to the second practice, so that’s what I’m asking for every day.”
Sirk will practice in a limited capacity until he and the training staff agree he’s ready to go. To this point, that has meant he’ll participate in individual and positional drills, while sitting out 7-on-7 and full team work.
That includes cutting and running, which was a major part of Sirk’s arsenal last season when he rushed for 803 yards and eight touchdowns.
“I’ve been running everything," he said. "I’ve been doing all the bag drills, all the individual quarterback drills and running out of those things, and I haven’t been limited on my running.”
Caution isn’t the first word that comes to mind when watching Sirk hurtle himself toward the end zone with reckless abandon, but he understands the importance of being honest with his coaches and trainers.
“I trust it. I just respond to my body, how it feels," he said. "If I feel anything awkward, I’m not going to try to push it. That’s one thing during rehab, you got used to being uncomfortable with the way it feels, but there’s nothing uncomfortable now for me and I’m not nervous about it, I’m just going out and playing my game and not trying to do anything differently.”
With Sirk feeling good, Cutcliffe plans to keep pushing with the goal of helping Sirk reach his goal of being ready for the season opener on Sept. 3 against North Carolina Central.
“I’m going to watch, and I’m going to observe … we need feedback,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re past trying to just get well; we’re trying to get well and get better and get back. At that point, we’ve got to work him. His rehab is pretty hefty right now.”
Sirk hasn’t caught himself analyzing each step, wondering if the repaired Achilles can hold up when he plants to throw.
Instead, he said, it’s something he left in the training room back in February.
“My biggest goal was to have no fear coming into this camp,” he said. “I didn’t want to look back on the injury; I’ve moved past that, I’ve kept a positive attitude through the entire process and I’m going to continue to keep that positive attitude moving forward.”