Jason Nugent can empathize with Kelly Wiltshire.
Four games into his senior year at Rutgers University, the Edmonton Eskimos rookie defensive back ripped up his knee.
"I was just going in to make a tackle, stepped on someone's foot," Nugent said yesterday. "My knee just buckled and it went out."
Over nine months later, Nugent, 24, is ready to make his Eskimos debut. He'll be in the lineup tomorrow when the Eskimos go up against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Ironically, Nugent is dressing in place of Wiltshire who ripped up his knee last Friday after taking a low block from Stampeders receiver Nik Lewis.
"I don't wish this injury on anybody," Nugent said. "I know Kelly just got it and my prayers go out to Kelly. He was a leader to me, I looked up to him, and got a lot of knowledge from him. The ACL is the hardest injury to come back from."
NATIVE OF TORONTO
Nugent was the Eskimos second pick (17th overall) in the 2006 CFL College draft. The Eskimos chose the Toronto native, despite knowing he would not be available until midway through the season.
"We've invested a lot of time in him and he's a guy that we were excited about coming out of Rutgers," said Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia. "We knew he would be out at least half the season, but we also felt had he not been injured he would have been a first-round pick."
Originally a running back, Nugent made the switch to the defensive secondary at Rutgers.
Since arriving in Edmonton, he's been working hard in rehab trying to get back on the football field.
"I don't know if my knee is 100% or if it will be for the next year or so," Nugent said. "But I'm definitely excited just to be able to play football again. I remember lying there just looking at the lights and just wondering how I got here. Now I'm playing again in the CFL, it's a dream come true."
Ironically enough, Nugent will be making his debut in his home province.
"I got a lot of friend and family coming out to the game," he said. "It's pretty exciting.
"I feel like I'm in Grade 9 again. I feel like I'm a little kid playing Pop Warner football again."
Nugent won't start against the Ticats, but it is expected he'll get in the game. How much he plays will depend on what type of shape he's in.
"He's a guy that runs hard and he'll hit you, it's as simple as that," Maciocia said. "He's a downhill kind of player. He'll come downhill and he'll hit you."
Having been forced to watch his team struggle up to this point has been hard on the six-foot, 215-pound defensive back.
Now in the lineup, Nugent is eager to contribute in the Eskimos drive for a playoff spot.
"I know CFL is a crazy place, anything can happen," he said. "We've had some bad luck up to this point. We've been on the wrong end of some close games. Hopefully the luck starts going our way now."
Heading into Hamilton the Eskimos know better than to underestimate the Ticats.
A year ago, the Eskimos strolled into Hamilton and limped out on the wrong end of a 40-14 contest.
"I never underestimate anybody," Nugent said. "I can be going up against someone I've never heard of before and I'm going to treat him like Randy Moss. You always have to be on point, you always have to be ready for anybody."