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Etheridge to return this fall?

When Zac Etheridge was injured last fall, I think the immediate reaction on all of our parts was I hope he’s able to walk again. It wasn’t until much later that we felt comfortable even considering the notion of him playing again, and I for one don’t think I’d have ever gotten to level of expecting him to see the field if somebody on Auburn’s staff–like say, his position coach, who just so happens to have experienced a similar injury before–didn’t say point-blank that he expected Etheridge back.

But hey, look out, here we go:

Etheridge, who tore ligaments in his neck and cracked his C5 vertebrae in a scary collision Oct. 31 against Ole Miss, has been rehabbing with fury and is on pace to make a full recovery in time for Auburn’s 2010 season opener, Thigpen said.

“The game is important to Zac and he’ll get by just like it was important to (Aairon Savage),“ Thigpen said. “For those guys who want to come back, they’ll come back and I have no doubt Zac will be back.“

How awesome is that? After those scenes last fall, simply beyond awesome.

We probably shouldn’t start writing Etheridge’s name in the depth chart in permanent marker just yet, but it’s hard to not to get excited about the possibility of his return when you consider how much of a boost the secondary has received these past few weeks. If Etheridge is full speed, Savage is back to something approximating his former self, and Mike McNeil shakes off the rust, you’re looking at a seven-deep secondary consisting of Thorpe, Washington, Bell, Bates, McNeil, Etheridge, and Savage … six of whom already have extensive starting experience at Auburn and one of whom (Bell) looked ready to get it at the close of last season. If Auburn can’t put together a functional secondary from that many functional parts (not to mention Hood and Gulley and Jonathan Mincy), something will have gone seriously wrong.

The best part of this story isn’t about the football, of course. It’s about a young man who was blessed enough to come through what could have been a life-altering (or even life-ending) injury with what appears to be no major, lasting damages, who’ll even be able to play the contact sport that’s been his life’s calling.

But hey, while we’re thinking about it: the football part’s pretty good news, too.

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