Camp good time for Avery

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Training camp is supposed to be hell for players, but for John Avery it is absolutely heaven.

Physically, mentally and emotionally he appears to be fully recovered from the knee injury that curtailed his participation in training camp after the opening day a year ago and impacted on his entire season. But you wouldn't know he had any problems judging by what he's doing now.

He can cut and slash and accelerate without any visible signs of stress or duress and can stop without feeling surges of pain.

Mentally, he is more in tune with what is being asked of him, the result of working every day with his teammates and going through the reps that he couldn't do at this time a year ago. And emotionally, he is having fun, cutting up and dancing, essentially showcasing the personality that seemed at odds with his limited production last season.

"This is like a beach resort for me right now," he said yesterday. "Last year, I felt miserable because I wasn't able to come out and practise and train with the guys. Camp is that bonding time where you get to see who's going to work; who's going to be there when the smoke clears. I wasn't able to participate, so I think that was one of the problems during the season -- they didn't know me. Now when they see me twice a day and I'm running full speed and I'm going the distance of the field when I get the ball -- just making sure I'm training myself to make big plays and that's what it's all about, making plays -- I think it makes the bond stronger.

"This is like the best thing that could have happened to me, just coming to camp healthy and being able to practise."

Avery is wearing a flexible sleeve on his left knee for structural support, but otherwise there is nothing visible to indicate he had a major problem at this time last year. He had an off-season to work on the problem under the watchful supervision of athletic therapists and doctors who helped him at this last year when he had some serious challenges. The operation he underwent in the fall of 2003 while with the Minnesota Vikings still required extensive rehabilitation and rest, but without the benefit of time Avery had to bypass training camp to work on fixing his knee. He could do little the odd times he showed up in training camp and missed valuable time with his new teammates and the new offence they were learning.

"I was walking through hell with gasoline underwear on," he said. "The odds of you not catching fire are very, very slim. Now to come out here and actually participate ... I'm having a ball. Guys can see my enthusiasm. When it's our turn to go out there, I'm excited, I'm jumping around, because I'm back and I'm ready to do some damage.

"It was a fight the whole season last year. Most heavyweight bouts last 12 rounds. I think I went 100 rounds and I kept fighting. I won the last round by knockout and I'm back."

Avery and his teammates will showcase their skills today in the team's annual Fan Day. He missed Fan Day a year ago to continue his rehab and you could hear the whispers of criticism about Avery, much of it fuelled by his contract. The team signed him to a deal that made him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the CFL. In the off-season, they adjusted the contract, which will still pay him well.

He thinks he can rush for 2,000 yards this year -- a feat few running backs have done in a season. It takes a commitment to run the ball and a healthy back to do it. He ran for almost 1,000 yards last year while never fully healthy in an offence predicated on the passing game.

If it's true that a high-performance athlete usually requires at least one year to physically and mentally recover from a major knee operation, Avery could be in for a big season.

"We've taken the cake out of the oven and it's feeling a whole lot better now," he said. "All I've got to do is put the icing on the cake."


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