J.C. Tretter didn’t need any X-rays or medical scans to know his situation was dire.
The surge of pain jolting through his ankle served as more than enough confirmation as he fell haplessly to the ground during his first organized team activity practice as a professional football player in May.
Along with Colorado’s David Bakhtiari, the 23-year-old Tretter was one of two rookie offensive linemen the Green Bay Packers selected in the fourth round of April’s NFL draft.
Thus far, that first NFL season has been reduced to team meetings, shuttle rides and hotel delivery after getting his cleat stuck in the ground and breaking his ankle during a fumble recovery drill.
The incident led to ambulance ride, emergency surgery and hospital visits from the entire Packers’ rookie offensive line, head coach Mike McCarthy, and position coaches James Campen and Joel Hilgenberg.
It also postponed the 6-foot-4, 307-pound rookie’s arrival to the NFL after being just the 31st player out of Cornell to be drafted into the league and first since 2005.
“I could do that drill a million more times and it never would happen,” Tretter said. “It’s the game of football. Some fluky things happen, you just have to roll with it, you have to stay positive and keep moving and moving forward.”
For the past two months, the only thing Tretter could do is press on, pushing himself through physical therapy treatments to regain his full range of motion while trying to keep his head in his playbook.
However, the successes haven’t come without hurdles. The first came when Tretter left the hospital and was given a pair of ordinary crutches that stressed to sustain his weight before the team equipped him with a sturdier model.
Fortunately, the individuals surrounding the rookie lineman have been far more dependable.
He formed a fast friendship with the entire rookie class of offensive linemen, especially roommate and fellow fourth-round selection David Bakhtiari, who was one of the first to visit him in the hospital and his most reliable driver when running errands around town.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the rookies as Tretter continues to rehab and Bakhtiari prepares to start at left tackle during Friday night’s preseason-opener against the Arizona Cardinals.
More than 2,000 miles away from his own home in Burlingame, Calif., the 21-year-old Bakhtiari understood Tretter’s plight after suffering a significant injury and being hundreds of miles away from his home in Akron, N.Y.
“I felt really bad because I know he came from a small school, got drafted and comes out his OTA and breaks his leg,” said Bakhtiari, who moved into the starting lineup after left tackle Bryan Bulaga went down with a season-ending knee injury during Saturday’s Family Night scrimmage.
“I went and saw him after at the hospital because you come away from your family, moving from New York. If it was me, I would really hope for someone else to come and at least visit me even if I knew him for about a week.
“From that, we’ve built a good relationship. I gave him rides from St. Norbert, there and back, because he can’t even drive now, so I just try to help him out.”
Back home during the offseason, Tretter’s parents, Joseph and Cynthia, drove him to all his doctor appointments and rehab sessions. He kept the lines of conversation going throughout with Bakhtiari, who spent the month off in California.
At best, the time frame for the injury could put him back in a Packers’ uniform in late November or December. If that happens, the 6-foot-4, 307-pound rookie will undoubtedly have ground to make up after missing most of the offseason program.
At worst, Tretter will give his NFL career another try next season, but he’s come to terms with the delay regardless of the determination.
“It’s a letdown, for sure. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Tretter said. “You want to come out there — that’s the first thing as a rookie, you want to prove yourself. You want to prove you deserve to be here. It’s tough to have that opportunity lost, but now you’re job is to get back and get healthy and get ready to prove yourself whenever you’re going to be able to.”
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