Nov. 15, 2007
By JACK WILKINSON
These days, every day is a wake-up call for Tashard Choice. It’s not just the late-season urgency, or his own remarkable sense of responsibility. Or even the prospect that Choice has at least two football games — more likely three, including a bowl game — in his distinguished Georgia Tech career.
These days, back on Eastern Standard Time again, Choice has no choice but to rise, if not shine, before dawn.
“Seven o’clock in the morning,” he said. “Every morning.”
By 7, Choice has already been awake for awhile. By 7, he’s in the Tech training room for his morning treatment du jour, before going to class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On those days, Choice is taking his last two courses before graduating in December.
Yet even on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, he’s up before the sun. If completely healthy, of course, “I wouldn’t get up ’til I wake up,” Choice said, laughing. Instead, he opts for a medical and therapeutic smorgasbord, one designed to keep the only running back in Tech history to rush for consecutive 1,000-yard seasons healthy enough to play.
“Yeah, everything you can imagine,” Choice said of the various treatments he undergoes to keep his hamstring healthy, his surgically-repaired right knee strong enough for Saturdays — especially this one in Bobby Dodd Stadium, when Tech (6-4, 3-4 ACC) meets North Carolina in its conference finale.
By then, Choice will have run the gamut of another week’s treatment. Neither cold nor heat, electricity or a faulty alarm clock will keep him from his appointed rounds: Ultrasound. Hot tubs. Cold tubs. Massage. Ice. Stretching. Electric stimulation.
Under the direction of Jay Shoop, Tech’s director of sports medicine, and his training staff, Choice undergoes from 30-60 minutes each morning — the first of three, sometimes four such daily sessions in the training room.
“That’s part of your football career,” Choice said, “dealing with injuries and what you have to do.”
That’s Choice, by choice. Last Saturday, after missing the Virginia Tech loss and 18 days following knee surgery, Choice rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns in Tech’s 41-24 victory at Duke. That gave him 1,034 yards rushing (and nine TDs) this season, and the unique distinction as Tech’s only back-to-back 1,000-yard back.
The first 48 of those yards in Durham also gave Choice’s coach, teammates and about two dozen North Carolina relatives watching in Wallace Wade Stadium pause. And momentary cause for concern. His knee was OK. It was his hamstring, the one that hindered Choice against Boston College in September and the next week at Virginia, that prompted him to run out of bounds.
“When he first got up, I was kind of a little leery,” his uncle, Mike Choice, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution afterward. “When he walked off the field, that limp kind of faded out. I knew he was pretty good.”
Now Choice, the ACC’s leading rusher for the second straight season (averaging 114.9 yards per game), faces a Carolina defense that is ninth in the conference against the rush (allowing 138.7 yards a game). Last fall in Chapel Hill, Choice accounted for 151 of Tech’s 221 total yards (including 119 yards rushing) and the only touchdown in the Jackets’ 7-0 victory that clinched the Coastal Division title. Choice finished the year with 1,473 yards rushing.
And this season? Just imagine if Choice, who on Tuesday pronounced his hamstring “pretty good,” had been healthy all autumn. He does.
“It goes through my mind every day,” Choice said. “These injuries, to be sidelined about three games, I could be upset. But I’ll be OK.”
And up early every morning.