Nate Landman’s emotions got the best of him while lying on the snowy, Folsom Field turf on Dec. 12.
It wasn’t really about the physical pain from rupturing his Achilles’ tendon during Colorado’s game against rival Utah that day, though.
“I knew what was coming after that,” Landman, CU’s star linebacker, said during Pac-12 media day on Tuesday in Hollywood, Calif. “I knew straight away that I ruptured my Achilles, and then being so close to where I was (with graduating and entering the NFL Draft), that’s why I was so emotional.”
Although Landman was a senior during the 2020 season, all players were granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Landman, a two-time All-Pac-12 player and 2020 Butkus Award semifinalist, was not planning to use that extra year, but that second-quarter play against the Utes changed everything.
“Not my plan (to be back this year), but I’ve actually had one of the best semesters and time at CU these last couple months,” he said. “It’s been a long eight months but I can’t wait to get back out there. It’s a blessing to be able to play another year of college football.”
CU head coach Karl Dorrell said the team expects Landman to be 100 percent healthy by the middle of preseason camp, which starts Aug. 5.
Landman, of course, has a different timeline.
“If you told me I had to go play a game tomorrow I would go play a game tomorrow,” Landman said. “Obviously my strength coach and trainer will tell you I need a couple more weeks, but that’s just where my headspace is at and I trust it and I’m excited.”
Mentally, Landman is as locked in as ever after going through the most difficult offseason of his collegiate career.
Shortly after his injury, Landman said it was difficult to be in a cast and then a walking boot, unable to drive himself around and having to depend on others to help him.
“You feel vulnerable,” he said.
About six weeks after surgery, however, Landman’s rehab process began to ramp up.
“I started getting more confidence and that’s when I started coming back (mentally),” he said. “I’m not gonna lie, it was hard the first month or two mentally.”
Through the process, Landman has heard all types of stories from people who have had Achilles’ injuries and the lengthy recovery process. For some, it can take a year or two to feel back to normal.
Landman credits his surgeon, who performed a relatively new procedure that is less invasive and leads to a quicker recovery period.
“Thankfully, my body has responded really well and I’ve been able to follow each step of my rehab program and hit (goals) either on time or even before the time of that set goal,” he said.
“(The injury) happened, and I’m coming to terms with it. Honestly, it’s maybe a blessing in disguise, who knows? We’ll see how this year goes.”
One blessing for CU is that with Landman out during the spring, several other linebackers got a chance to play more. Juniors Jonathan Van Diest and Quinn Perry, along with freshman Marvin Ham II got valuable reps. The Buffs also added Robert Barnes (from Oklahoma) and Jack Lamb (Notre Dame) as transfers.
With more depth, CU coaches would like to limit the workload for Landman, who, from the start of the 2019 season through the moment he ruptured his Achilles’ tendon, played 96.4 percent of CU’s defensive snaps.
“I’d rather not limit that,” Landman said. “I’m out there to play the game, right? I want to be able to do everything I can to win the game and I think that me being in those snaps, it gives confidence to the team, it gives confidence to me. … I think I bring a lot more to the table than just being a football player out there. The leadership and the coaching that goes on in the field is what I bring to the table, too.”
Landman will likely be limited in practices and he understands that. But, as he prepares for the final step of his recovery, Landman said he has no nerves about playing full-speed, full-contact football again.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’ve been training, I’ve been running with the team, cutting – doing everything that the team is doing. … All that nerves and that kind of stuff, it’s just not really an impact on me just because I trust the surgery, I trust by rehab and everything so well.”
He also trusts the work he’s put in to this point throughout the years to be in a position for a great season and a possible NFL career. Landman has developed his game and, while still improving, said, “I think I’ve become the complete linebacker. I may not be the (4.4-second 40-yard dash) guy, but the way I prepare off the field, watching film and stuff, I can get there just as fast as a 4.4 guy because I know what’s coming.”
For now, what’s coming is Landman’s final year with the Buffs, and he can’t wait to get started.
“I’m happy,” he said. “I’m in a great headspace. I’m healthy and I’m excited just get out there to be able to play again.”