According to conventional knee injury wisdom, Nate Kimbrough should not be on the field for the Arizona State football team for about two more months.
However, the junior wide receiver was highly motivated to be a fast healer, and he has played in both games this season, 10 months after rupturing his left anterior cruciate ligament in a game at Oregon State.
Usually, the prognosis after such an injury is a year of rehabilitation.
“I progressed fast,” Kimbrough said. “I worked my butt off this summer. Every day, I went at it with the mind-set that I was going to play this year. I actually feel better than last year. My leg feels stronger.”
On Saturday against Colorado, Kimbrough returned punts and backed up at receiver, making a key third-down reception to extend a drive that ended with ASU’s first touchdown. Such contributions are satisfying, but Kimbrough wants to return to the depth-chart status he had before getting hurt.
Kimbrough’s injury occurred on the Sun Devils’ second play from scrimmage against Oregon State. That means he was starting.
“Of course, I want to start, and I’ll work hard to get there,” Kimbrough said. “I know they are not going to lay the red carpet out for me, but I told the coaches that I’ll work hard to get where I need to be.”
Cornerback Justin Tryon has been tapped as ASU’s kickoff returner, a role that he has wanted to fill since arriving in Tempe before last season.
He got the chance late in 2006 and performed well enough — averaging 41.2 yards on five returns — to convince the incoming coaching staff to give him a shot. Tryon earned the job over receiver Kyle Williams, who returns punts.
“When you talk about a kickoff returner, Justin is a guy who gets downhill and hits a crease (immediately),” special teams coach Al Simmons said. “We like having him back there.”
This year, Tryon has returned three kicks for a 22.3-yard average.
“It’s a long season,” Tryon said. “I just have to get the timing down.”
With his former secondary coach — ASU defensive coordinator Craig Bray — watching, Colorado cornerback Terrence Wheatley promised to play with purpose, and he enjoyed some first-half satisfaction.
Wheatley, a senior, returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown on the Sun Devils’ first possession and later made a deft breakup of a deep pass to receiver Tyrice Thompson.
In the days before the game, Wheatley and junior safety Ryan Walters spoke of extra motivation from the presence of Bray, who was at Colorado in 2004 and ’05. Some players took exception to Bray’s coaching style.
“Me and Coach Bray didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” Walters told the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera. “He’s a smart guy and knows his stuff, so I have respect for him in that aspect, but I’m definitely going to play with a little chip on my shoulder.”
The temperature at kickoff was 102 degrees, making it the warmest game in Colorado history. The previous mark was a 99-degree date at UCLA in 2002. …
At halftime, ASU honored its baseball team, which in 2007 advanced to the College World Series.