SOUTH BEND — Braxston Cave’s return to the middle of the offensive line has been a welcome sight to his fellow lineman.
The senior center was sidelined for eight months as he recovered from a torn tendon he suffered on the top of his left foot in the Irish’s 24-17 win over Wake Forest on Nov. 5, 2011, in Winston-Salem, N.C.
But when camp opened Saturday, Cave was right back where he belonged.
“I didn’t realize it was that long,” left tackle Zack Martin said. “It felt good to have him back out there and making calls. It felt normal.”
Cave’s injury was anything but normal.
Cave called it a freak accident when he got hit from the side and his legs went out from under him. A Wake Forest player landed on Cave’s heel and tore a tendon in his foot.
“Actually at first, I thought I broke my leg,” Cave said. “Once I stood up, I knew that wasn’t it. Then I tried to go back in. But once I got it taped up and tried to push off, I knew something was wrong.”
Cave had screws inserted into both sides of his foot and surgeons opened the top of his foot to repair the damage. He has a long scar going across the top of his foot to remind him of the injury.
The torn tendon cost Cave the last four games of last season and kept him out of spring practice.
Cave said he could have started practicing midway through the spring, but after sitting down with the coaching staff, it was decided that the best thing to do was for him to return when fall camp started.
“It was the best decision just to sit out and not do anything live,” Cave said. “I was able to do a lot of the stuff and be with the guys, but the hardest part was the conditioning aspect of it. I was on a bike or doing ropes, while they were out on the field running. That wasn’t fun. Being a part of something for so long, you don’t want to just sit on the side.”
Coach Brian Kelly said Cave had some rust when camp started, but he liked what he saw from the center when practice started Saturday.
“He moved well,” Kelly said.
Cave’s return moved Mike Golic Jr., who started at center in Cave’s absence, into a competition for the starting spot at right guard with Nick Martin.
“Mike did an excellent job replacing Braxston last year, but having Braxston is great,” left guard Chris Watt said. “(Cave is) a physical, nasty guy. He’s a nice guy to have on your side.”