The last time America saw Cameron Wake, he looked like a kid playing hopscotch.
But this wasn’t recess. And it was no laughing matter. This was as serious as it could get for a star football player on the wrong side of 30.
Nine months ago Friday, Wake tore his Achilles tendon on a routine play. It’s been a long, hard nine months.
Wake, for the first time, spoke at length Saturday about a rehab process that has consumed his most every waking moment.
“The funny thing is the physical part, I'm not going to say it was easy, but it's something that you're very used to,” Wake said. “I've built muscle my whole life. It's not new. Running's not new. Lifting weights' not new.
Here’s what is new:
“Being mentally strong when you can't get out of bed and you have to put your feet up for 30 hours a day, that's the hard part. Watching your team play when you're not out there, that's the hard part. Being on crutches, being a little more dependent [on other people], those are the hard ones. It wasn't the physical part at all. I've always tried my best in the offseason to stress myself, to challenge myself. But the part where you're out of the game, you're limited mentally, those are the issues.”
Still, Wake never thought about retirement. Rather, he believed his career wasn’t over, that he’d make it back as good as ever, “the second the play happened.”
Wake sees self-pity as a weakness. He has, however, allowed himself to watch that life-changing play — just once.
What the tape showed: Wake was lined up at left end, as always, and was locked up with Patriots tight end Michael Williams when his left ankle crumbled.
Wake knew his Achilles ruptured as “soon as it happened.”
And still, he finished the play. On one foot. He still pursued Tom Brady until the whistle blew.
“Get to the quarterback,” Wake said. “That was the only thing on my mind. All the other things are kind of in the distant, distant realms of your thought process. ... Even after it happened, I still tried my best to get the job done on one foot. But I didn’t really have anything left.”
That night, perhaps. But Wake believes he has plenty in his career, even if he’s not quite back yet.
The Dolphins are taking it slow with Wake this camp. Wake has done very little of 11-on-11 work through the first two days, and when he did so Saturday, he was in an unfamiliar spot: with the second team. Newcomer Andre Branch, at least for now, appears to be ahead of Wake on the depth chart.
“He’s doing a lot in individual,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said. “So you always forget that that time is valuable for those players and it is very taxing on them. So you can’t just look at, ‘Well, he’s only getting two plays a period’ or ‘He’s only getting four plays a period.’ That individual time because — that individual time, they ended up going almost 30-plus minutes in individual. That’s a lot of time on him.”
Wake’s role this year will evolve with his health, but the likeliest scenario is he’ll play predominantly on passing downs — perhaps 40 to 45 snaps per game.
“You’re talking distant future,” Wake said. “I don’t know. You have to ask some of the guys who kind of make more of those decisions. Until they put another zero on my check, I don’t think I have that power yet.”
But if he is indeed a part-time player, is that enough for a guy who’s been the defense’s heart and soul since Jason Taylor retired?
“Whatever I can to help the team win will be enough,” Wake said. “I’ve never had a number. ... When I’m out there just doing whatever you can to make those snaps the best snaps; that’s all I’m really concerned about.”
Dolphins training camp
Where: Baptist Health South Florida Training Facility.
Practices open to public: Sunday, 8:35 a.m.; Monday, 8:35 a.m.; Thursday, 9 a.m.; Friday, 8:35 a.m.; Aug. 8, 9 a.m.; Aug. 9, 8:35 a.m.; Aug. 10, 8:35 a.m.; Aug. 15, 8:35 a.m.; Aug. 16, 8:35 a.m.; Aug. 17, 8:35 a.m.
Tickets: Free; available at Dolphins.com