The broken bone in Curtis Porters right index finger protruded through the skin and was excruciatingly painful. That was bad enough in August 2011. But when the finger subsequently got infected twice Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Porter watched his second consecutive season all but evaporate before it began.
In 2010, after playing in eight games the previous season as a freshman, Porter was carted off in Game 2 at Ohio State with a season-ending knee injury during his first career start.
It was hard to deal with, Porter said. Youve got to understand, those trenches are something else. In the trenches, anything can happen. Its very rough. Its very tough. Youre going against offensive linemen and theyve got help.
Now, after coaches got a heartening glimpse of Porters potential in a seven-tackle performance against Boston College in the 2011 season finale (as well as a strong showing in his first game back the week before at USF), Porter is wearing the cherished black jersey that belongs to first-team players.
But hes going to have to hang on tight to keep it. Olsen Pierre, the 6-4, 300-pound sophomore listed behind Porter on the depth chart, has been making strides in this first week of fall football camp, as has been 6-3, 288-pound Luther Robinson on the other side behind first-teamer Darius Smith.
Curtis Porter right now, were trying to see where he is conditioning wise, said UM defensive coordinator Mark DOnofrio. Hes played a quarter of the season at most the last two years. Hes a long way away from being where we want him to be and its going to take a hard training camp.
Fellow defensive tackle Darius Smith, who went from 361 pounds when he arrived as a junior-college transfer to his current weight of 324, has another step to go in his weight-loss program, DOnofrio said.
There are nine defensive tackles now in camp and theyre all going to get opportunities, DOnofrio said. That picture is not clear there. I need conditioning and the ability to make plays those are the issues at the end of the day.
Its going to be a dogfight there. Weve got nine guys and weve got to come out with four or five that can play for us.
Porter, a redshirt junior from Charlotte, N.C., is 6-1 and 305 pounds. His bench press max increased from 375 to 405 pounds, and he does 30 reps at 225 pounds.
Hes very explosive, probably the quickest off the ball on the whole defensive line, Smith said of Porter.
Smith, nicknamed the Plug because his girth tends to stop leaks up the middle, launched his junior-college career in 2009 at Lackawanna with 375 pounds on his 6-2 frame. Thats the same school that gave former Hurricanes left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who won the Outland Trophy in 2001, his start.
Hes super strong, their former junior-college coach, Mark Duda, told The Miami Herald last season. Did you shake hands with him? His hands are probably the biggest hands youve ever seen in your life, and probably the strongest. Theyre off the planet. So he can control people with his hands, and hes so physically strong that its very difficult to block him.
DOnofrio said the abundance of injuries last year on the D-line were frustrating, but also a boost to the future. Some guys who werent ready to play last year had to play, and because of it well benefit now.
But behind Smith and Porter at tackle are several players with limited or no college experience: Robinson (three tackles in 11 games in 2010 and out all season with an injury), Pierre (four tackles in seven games in 2011), Jalen Grimble (no tackles in seven games as a freshman), and freshmen Jacoby Briscoe, Dequan Ivery and Earl Moore.
Defensive tackle Corey King, who redshirted last season, wore a red non-contact jersey Tuesday.