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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Auburn's Doolittle back after heel injury

Tez Doolittle thought his football playing days were behind him after he tore his Achilles heel during preseason camp last year.

When Doolittle, an Opelika High standout, took the field Saturday night for Auburn's season-opener against ULM, the senior defensive tackle had a hard time fighting off his emotions.

"I was this far from crying," Doolittle said. "It felt like I had a frog in my throat. I was just anxious to get out there and I got out there in the first quarter. Is this really happening? I was just so excited."

During the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game, Doolittle made a key play in protecting Auburn's shutout. On fourth-and-inches in Auburn territory, ULM attempted a run up the middle. Doolittle penetrated into the backfield. He and linebacker Josh Bynes dropped Frank Goodin for a 4-yard loss, forcing a turnover on downs.

That Doolittle is even playing this year is incredible. The injury -- a complete tear of Doolittle's Achilles heel -- forced him to miss all of what was supposed to be his final season at Auburn.

The injury was also supposed to end his career.

"They told me at the time I did it," said Doolittle, who has already earned a degree in criminal justice and is now working on a second degree in exercise science. "I came back from the MRI. They did a little test on your leg to see if the Achilles' is attached. When they did that, mine didn't move. They told me: 'It's over for you.' "

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said watching Doolittle return Saturday was one of the things that makes coaching fun.

"The young man didn't have a lot of fun in the last 12 months, having to do all that rehab," Tuberville said. "He had fun (Saturday). He attacked the line of scrimmage.

"He's obviously been a surprise being able to come back that quickly from that type of injury.

"Four weeks ago, I'd have never thought he'd play in this game at the start of two-a-days. His leg wasn't strong enough, he couldn't push off well, and we were a little bit afraid of putting him in harm's way."

Doolittle was largely an afterthought throughout spring practice until Auburn's pro day. That day Doolittle told reporters that he and the university had requested a sixth year of eligibility since Doolittle had been unable to play in 2007.

The NCAA granted the request and, suddenly, the Tigers had some much-needed depth along the defensive line.

"I've been really excited with his progress," Auburn defensive line coach Don Dunn said. "That injury, from what I understand, is anywhere from 12 to 14 months. For a defensive lineman pushing off and having to use all your weight on that part of your body, I'm pretty amazed with the young man. He's done well."

Doolittle said he's still not back to full strength. If he sits for a while, it stiffens and Doolittle has to limp.

Still, he's back on the field and has already made an impact for the Tigers this season.

Considering where Doolittle was a year ago, that's quite an accomplishment.

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