"I'm back to 100 percent, and my knee is feeling very strong," said Duke's Kelby Brown. "I finally feel like I'm caught up physically to where I need to be, and I'm able to go out there and play at full strength."
Playing at that level has been a long time coming for the 6-foot-2, 220 pound Charlotte native after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Brown had originally injured the knee in November of 2010 against Georgia Tech. As a result of the surgery in February of 2012, Brown was relegated to the sideline throughout last season.
"Being out was definitely tough, but I feel like I learned a lot about myself, and my teammates. I worked hard to be a good teammate, and to learn enough to where I could help coach them from the sidelines. I was used to being a leader on the field, and I feel like last year helped me see the other side as I was always working to keep spirits up, and help my guys succeed from the sideline."
When he wasn't a player-coach on Saturdays, Brown spent most of the Fall running through drills on the scout team. Certainly, that's a long way from playing in high level ACC games, but it was a necessary step in the recovery process.
"When you're running the scout team, there's not a lot of responsibility when it comes to hitting guys. It did allow me to really work on getting extra reps, and focusing on my fundamentals. The little things like footwork, keys, and understanding the different schemes - the things that make all the difference when you're ready to play."
"Around the fourth week last year, I was able to do limited reps, and as the season went along I had the ability to do more and more. Eventually, I got to the point where I could do everything live except for live tackle drills. The first day of Spring Practice was the first time I got to hit someone live."
Being out of live contact for more than a year was likely hard on Brown, but did it make things tougher for him to watch his teammates qualify for the post-season?
"You'd think so, and so did I, but I was really surprised. There were no mixed emotions at all for me. I was so proud of my teammates, and excited for them to do so well. That bowl games was amazing and great for everyone in the program. I would have loved to have been able to play, but it didn't matter in the grand scheme of things because I was there with my teammates."
But Duke wasn't able to beat Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, and will start the 2013 season looking to not only return to a bowl, but also finish with a winning record. At least that's what the coaches and players are saying.
"What we learned last season was that we can compete with anyone. That's different than it was before. We feel that our goal should legitimately be to win the ACC and to make it to the Orange Bowl. Everyone here believes that completely."
In order to realize any of those lofty goals, Duke will need an improved season from the entire defensive unit - especially the front six in the Blue Devils' 4-2-5 scheme. Brown, for one, believes that's exactly what fans will see in 2013.
"We have a lot of experience on the defensive side of the ball. We didn't lose anyone from the defensive line, and we have some redshirts who can really play. So far this Spring I think our defensive line has looked really strong, and we have four linebackers behind them who have all started games. In the secondary we have some guys who haven't played yet, but who are really talented."
Brown’s career totals include 128 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, four fumble recoveries, one caused fumble, three pass breakups and seven quarterback pressures. In addition, he is a two-time selection to the Academic All-ACC squad.