Adam Choice’s scary moment last August turned out to be a blessing for the Clemson running back.
Coming off an ACL tear midway the 2014 season, Choice was still wearing a knee brace and trying to get back in football shape during 2015’s fall camp.
In one of the early practices during camp, he came off the field with another injury to that knee. At that point, the Clemson medical staff shut him down. While Choice returned to help the scout team, the decision was made to redshirt Choice in 2015 and save him for another year.
“The way I was thinking of it, it was more of a precautionary thing,” said Choice, who’s back in the running back mix this spring. “Mentally I probably wasn’t ready, and they probably saw that. It was for the best. I appreciate what they did.”
That’s now the past. Choice, who rushed for 218 yards and one touchdown on 50 carries as a freshman in 2014, has lost the knee brace and is working hard this spring to be an improved running back.
“He’s a big guy, a strong guy, but he’s not a natural violent runner, so really challenging him to really develop that confidence, accelerate as opposed to just using his girth to fall forward,” said Clemson co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Tony Elliott. “You start to see him put it all together and he’s a lot more confident.”
Choice, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound redshirt sophomore from Thomasville, Ga., is getting reps with both the first and second team in “tough situations,” Elliott said.
That’s helping build that confidence back. Choice believes the mental and physical aspects of overcoming a major knee injury are finally coming together. He wanted to lose the knee brace last fall, when he finally began moving naturally again, but the medical staff wouldn’t let him until spring ball started Feb. 29.
“I feel as close to 100 percent as I’ve ever been,” Choice said. “It’s been a long process.”
Starting running back Wayne Gallman said he’s noticed that Choice still thinks about that knee at times, but he sees him getting his physical side back.
“He’s gaining that confidence every day,” Gallman said. “He’s been looking really good.”
Choice has had to prove himself to Elliott, who’s looking for his rusher to continue to grow in knowledge and pass protection. But Choice also has to show that he’s able to “stick his face in the fan.”
Choice was ranked by Rivals.com in the top 10 nationally at his position out of high school, and he flashed signs of what he could do when he rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown in his first career game against S.C. State in 2014. He was establishing himself as a go-to option when he tore his ACL against Boston College on Oct. 18, 2014, more than a month before quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered the same injury. Every player is different, and Choice admits it’s taken longer than he expected to get healthy.
“It’s just taking a goal and getting better,” Choice said. “If I find something every day, find a flaw and get better at it, I say I’m making progress.”
That time off last year gave Choice an opportunity to get better at every area without having to prepare to play each week. He said he worked on something like ball security or cutting every day.
As the scout team back, he watched film on big-time runners like Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Alabama’s Derrick Henry. While his game differs from those guys, studying them to try to simulate them in practice helped him pick up little things they do to be successful.
Clemson believes Choice will do just that moving forward. Choice was one of four Tigers to receive the Future Impact Award at the team’s annual postseason banquet in January.
His role in 2016, though, isn’t known yet. Gallman is coming off a 1,500-yard season and is one of the top returning backs in the country. Tyshon Dye, C.J. Fuller and Tavien Feaster will all be fighting with Choice this fall for carries in relief of Gallman.
“My dad told me to never take a back seat to anybody, so I’m going out there trying to win a job,” said Choice, who also won an award for the highest GPA among sophomores. “But at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to get better and help the team improve.”