Everyone that's ever been involved in football knows that injuries are a major part of the game. It's the nature of the beast. High speed and heavy contact give players a pretty accurate depiction of just how fragile the human body is.
Former Golden Gopher wide receiver Eric Decker knows this all too well. After having his junior season cut short by injury, Decker chose to pass on a chance to play minor league baseball and return to the University of Minnesota for his senior season.
Early in the 2009 season, it looked like Decker had made the right decision. The unquestioned focal point of the Gophers offense had established himself as one of the best wide receivers in the country and was very much in the conversation for the Biletnikoff award, given to the best college football wide receiver.
Despite being double and triple covered by opposing defenses, Decker found ways to get himself open. Seven games into the season, Decker already had over 700 yards receiving and five TDs. The Gophers offense struggled at times, but that couldn't be placed on Decker's shoulders.
The Gophers travelled to Ohio State in the middle of October. No one could have known that game would be Decker's last. Playing in a game that requires constant physical contact, Decker was injured on a play where he was untouched.
Decker went out for a pass in the second quarter. He'd done it hundreds of times before. He made a cut to get himself open and something gave in his foot. It certainly didn't look serious on television. Little did anyone know, as Decker hobbled off the field in Columbus, that his Gopher career was over.
Decker was diagnosed with something called a "Lisfranc" injury in his left foot. The good news is that it's not a career-threatening injury, as Decker learned when he got a call from an NFL player who had suffered a similar injury.
Brandon Stokley of the Denver Bronocos knows exactly what Decker's going through. After Decker suffered the injury, Stokley called Decker to let him know exactly what he was in for. That call prepared Decker for the long recovery process ahead of him.
Before the injury, Decker could have been a first-day pick in April's NFL Draft. Where he ends up now is anyone's guess. Teams are always wary of a player with an injury history, and Decker's last two collegiate seasons were cut short by ankle and foot injuries.
Decker's drawn a wide range of comparisons to current NFL wide receivers. He's been compared to Brandon Stokley and Pittsburgh Steelers star Hines Ward. When asked who Decker compared himself to, he set the bar a bit higher.
Arizona Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald is the Minnesota kid who evolved into arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL right now. Decker sees his game as similar to Larry's.
Decker's tried to pattern his game after Fitzgerald. While Fitz is more gifted physically, Decker is comparable to to Larry in size. Both receivers find ways to get open with opposing defenses constantly keying on them.
Fitzgerald is a class act before, during and after the game Decker sees that. At the NFL combine, Decker said of Fitzgerald: "On and off the field he acts as a professional, and that's the way I want to be when I get to the next level."
That's the type of attitude that NFL teams love to see out of their players. If Decker can prove to NFL scouts that he's going to be ready to play by the time training camps start in July, whoever takes the gamble and drafts him is likely going to get a great player and a great young man.