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RICHMOND, Va. — The thin tube snaked from his bicep to his heart, sending antibiotics coursing through his veins. Derrius Guice sat alone, for hours each day, contemplating how he had gotten here — first on an operating table in a Florida hospital and then, months later, hooked up to intravenous drips designed to fight an infection that had invaded his surgically repaired left knee.
A promising start to a long-held dream ended without warning last August. And after everything he has endured — his father gunned down in a Denny’s when Guice was 5, his older brother’s incarceration after pleading guilty to illegally using a weapon during a 2016 drive-by shooting, surviving his gang-infested Baton Rouge, Louisiana neighborhood and the humiliation and unsubstantiated rumors that followed his precipitous plunge down the NFL draft board in 2018 — Guice couldn’t fathom that football would be taken away too.
And in those dark, lonely moments, he could do only one thing.
“All the time,” Guice said during a quiet moment after a recent Washington Redskins training camp practice. “The pain was terrible, man. I was crying every night. Just picture me not being able to do nothing. Not being able to walk. Move. Do anything but just sit there and have IVs going through my arm three times a day for three hours.”
He shed tears for the never-ending hardships that had befallen him. The rookie season cut short after only six carries in a meaningless exhibition game. The uncertain future that awaited him.
“Football was the only thing that has never left my side in 15 years,” said the 22-year-old running back, who tore his left ACL in last year’s preseason opener against the New England Patriots.
Hidden from view inside a white tent beyond cold tubs sitting near the backdoor of the facility, Guice recently opened up to Yahoo Sports about the emotional toll of the past year and the subsequent criticisms that still gnaw at his psyche.
“What I went through last year with everybody bashing me, everybody talking s---, me slipping in the draft, and then me finally getting here, doing what I’m supposed to do, putting on, and then tearing my ACL in the first game. I had to overcome so much adversity the last year,” he said with a noticeable edge in his voice. “… I’ve never missed a year of football in 15 years, so that was the toughest thing [I’ve ever endured].”
Now, Guice is back. And he’s even more determined to showcase why he’s a 1,500-yard rusher in the making.
“I know that’s possible,” he said without hesitation.
But there’s something he must do first: Prove his haters wrong. Again.
“I’m not no injury-prone guy,” Guice said, dismissing the label he feels has been unfairly assigned to him. “I only had one injury my whole damn career that was really detrimental, where I had to miss playing time. And everybody’s calling me injury prone and s---. For what? Injury-prone is somebody who gets hurt and has all sorts of injuries. So out there [on the field], I’m just trying to do my thing and stay healthy.”
The road to regaining peace of mind has been anything but easy.
‘What’s too much?’
It’s a constant war of wills inside the athletic trainer’s room, and Guice refuses to relent. He knows his body, he insists. But his requests often fall on deaf ears.
“There was a point where he got aggravated because he was kind of halfway through the recovery process, a little towards the six-, seven-month mark and he wanted to do more,” said Guice’s close friend and teammate Chris Thompson in a separate interview with Yahoo Sports. “And every day he was just mad. Him and the strength coach got into it one time — nothing physical, but just verbally — because he was super frustrated.”
This past offseason, Thompson and future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson — two veteran Redskins backs who previously recovered from torn ACLs — cautioned Guice against overdoing it. They reminded him of what was most important and what was at stake in 2019.
“Just telling him, ‘I don’t need to see you until September,’” Thompson said. “And I think that’s the part he doesn’t realize yet. ‘I need you for those 16 games.’”
Guice claims he sees the big picture, yet he readily admits those arguments between him and the strength trainer haven’t ceased.
“We just fight about what I’m going to do. Still. Every day,” he said, smiling. “Before practice I might want to squat and he’ll be like, ‘Nope, you’ve gotta do it after practice.’ And I’m like, well, I want to do it before. I want to get my legs going before practice. … But at the end of the day, he knows what’s best for me.”
Another mischievous smile forms on his face: “But we’re still going to fight, though.”
Guice is the same bubbly running back he has always been, a playful, precocious kid trapped in a chiseled, sturdy 225-pound frame. His energy is infectious. His zest for life brightens his surroundings. But irritation bubbles beneath the surface.
The ACL tear, the subsequent infection and a tweaked hamstring — which he had suffered weeks before fans ever caught wind — have taken their toll emotionally. Thompson said he and Peterson would often remind Guice that “you don’t have to prove anything to anybody. Because he’s asking for extra reps and stuff right now [in practice], which is good. But they’re really just trying to take it slow with him and let him slowly get used to doing real football stuff against a defense on a field.”
Guice, however, doesn’t understand the concept of overdoing it.
“A lot of people say, ‘You do too much.’ And I’m like, ‘What’s too much?’ A lot of people don’t know what a typical athlete goes through day-to-day to know what a lot is,” he said. “Me and [rookie quarterback] Dwayne [Haskins] are doing extra reps after practice and people are saying, ‘Oh, Guice needs to sit down.’ I’m like, bro, how much work did I actually get during practice? There’s eight running backs. How much did I actually do during practice?
“ … There’s no such thing as you doing too much during training camp ’cause there’s a lot of people. We haven’t had cut day yet so there’s still 100 guys. It’s not 53 guys. People need to realize that.”
Guice can’t help but be impatient. Even angry at times. After months of being away from the field, he can’t stomach the thought of being told to slow down and to rest his body.
“That pisses me off,” he said, bluntly, in reference to being limited during his recovery. “Because it’s like that out here [in practice]. It’s like, I’m not limited, but I still kind of am. Because every time I have a big run or hard plants or something, they’re like, ‘You look great but make sure you watch it.’
“I’m just like, ‘Bro, lemme do me, man!’” Guice said, smiling again. “But at the same time, I know I have to keep that in mind because they’re right.”
The waiting game
He was the steal of the NFL draft in the Redskins’ eyes.
The former LSU star with top-10 talent had plummeted down draft boards due to unsubstantiated rumors and character concerns, resulting in him falling out of the first round and all the way to pick No. 59.
Washington’s front office had no reservations about Guice. The Redskins saw a star in the making.
“Based on his college tape, he had explosion,” head coach Jay Gruden said, reflecting on his initial impressions of Guice. “A powerful runner. Great vision. And productive. Heck, he had a ton of yards junior year when he spelled Leonard Fournette. You’re watching Leonard Fournette on tape and you’re like, ‘Who the hell’s this other guy?’”
Gruden highlighted his versatility, noting the power Guice possesses to run between tackles and the speed that allows him to get to the edge and break runs outside. And Gruden’s expectations for the running back this season are the same as they were a year ago.
Guice’s teammates also anticipate big things in the future.
“He can be great. And I truly believe he will be,” Thompson said. “With this rotation, I don’t think we’ll see his full potential now at this moment, in this season. But if he’s The Guy, he’s a 1,200-1,500-yard guy. He’s that good.”
Thompson insisted his opinion isn’t hyperbole. It’s rooted in empirical evidence.
“I’ve seen him on a daily basis,” he said. “The way that he runs the ball, guys over time will be scared to hit him — like they are with AP. Like they are with [Dallas Cowboys running back] Zeke Elliott. I believe he’s a guy that’s going to be on that level.”
Guice barely batted an eye when told later of Thompson’s lofty claim. To Guice it isn’t a matter of if he’ll be a force in the NFL. It’s a question of when.
“I want to be the best. I don’t want guys to look at me and think about Zeke or AD [Peterson] — I’m me. I’ve been me,” Guice said. “Leonard Fournette was my big brother. Everybody was scared of him. Every time I got in, it was the same thing. So I’m used to that. I’m used to stepping up to the plate when I’m on the big stage.”
Not too long ago, there were moments of fear. Fear of making that quick cut. Fear that his body might betray him. Fear that he wouldn’t be the same athlete he was before noted surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, sliced open his left knee on an operating table. But those nerves quickly dissipated when Guice returned to practice in Richmond.
“I know if I want to get back to my old self and have my confidence, I can’t run being scared,” he said.
Guice insisted that he’s “just taking it slow” and pacing himself for the games that truly matter. But the one-year anniversary of his fateful 34-yard run against the Patriots is fast approaching.
The Redskins’ preseason opener on Aug. 8 against the Cleveland Browns will be Guice’s first time suiting up for a game since he spin-moved and stiff-armed his way into open space against New England last summer. The final carry of his rookie campaign was a thing of beauty, the perfect play to encapsulate the type of weapon he could be for Washington.
And now, his moment is almost here. His second chance to make a first impression on the football world.
“I’m just waiting on my name [to be called],” Guice said. “I spent the whole draft waiting for my name. And even now — we’ve got a whole lot of running backs [in camp] — just waiting to hear my name. And I’m going to step up to the plate every time it’s called.”
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