Overcoming an injury takes time, mental and physical resilience, and perhaps most important, patience.
Cal Poly’s B.J. Nard knows this lesson all too well.
When the Mustangs open their football season Sept. 5 at Montana, it will have been nearly four years between games for the Bakersfield native.
“It’ll definitely get you emotional because it has been a long time,” said Nard, a 6-foot, 207-pound safety. “But I’m more than excited to play.”
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After redshirting in 2012, a devastating knee injury suffered in August 2013 sent Nard down a road to recovery that wouldn’t conclude for more than two years.
Gearing up for a breakout redshirt freshman season, Nard tore his anterior cruciate ligament, meniscus and suffered a micro fracture while making a tackle in practice.
The 2013 season was lost, and three months into rehab he had a setback that required a second surgery.
“I had to do the whole process all over again,” Nard said. “That just made me more hungry to get back on the field.”
He wouldn’t suit up again until fall camp leading up to the 2014 season.
B.J. Nard, the second-youngest of Benny and Earlene Nard’s eight children, said he was mentally ready to compete last fall, but his knee wasn’t there yet. The explosiveness and physicality that made him one of the best players to come out of Frontier High would show only in flashes.
Seventh-year head coach Tim Walsh said Nard “wasn’t mentally ready to go push the button and play the game” last fall, which ultimately led to him sitting out a third consecutive season.
“I think by laying off of him last year and letting him work at his own pace,” Walsh continued, “his confidence level in his body right now is the best it’s been since he got injured.”
Nard is a consistently vocal presence in practice, bringing an edge to a secondary brimming with talent but lacking experience.
Senior Kaulin Blair is the only safety on the eight-man preseason depth chart to have played a down at Cal Poly. The former walk-on has started just one of the 14 games he’s appeared in during his career. Blair’s status for the season opener is unknown after he injured his ankle in practice last week.
Secondary coach Jacob Yoro said Washington State transfer Kevin Griffin and redshirt freshman Aaron Johnson have challenged projected starters Blair and Nard during a competitive month of camp.
Coupled with returning all-Big Sky Conference cornerbacks Karlton Dennis and Chris Fletcher, the Mustangs have an intriguing mix of athletes on the back line.
“As a coach,” Yoro said, “when you walk in a room and you see guys who are motivated, guys who are driven and guys who want to win a championship, it makes it that much easier.”
Those are the same reasons Nard originally came to Cal Poly following his standout prep career.
A three-year starter at Frontier High under coach Rich Cornford, Nard piled up tackles (194) and receiving yards (1,717 on 113 receptions) at a record pace.
Cornford remembers Nard as a “great competitor and teammate” who was capable of playing any position on defense.
“Sometimes he played middle linebacker for us,” said Cornford, who enters his eighth season at Frontier this fall. “He was one of the most physical players that we had, and he would just fly sideline to sideline.”
Nard is one of the few Frontier graduates to pursue Division I opportunities since the school opened in 2006. Cornford also mentioned Matt Darr, a punter currently in training camp with the Miami Dolphins, and Colton Foster, a redshirt freshman at Colorado State.
Nard also overlapped at Frontier with the late Ted Agu, who played football at Cal for four years and died suddenly last February following an offseason training run. The two prep teammates each earned first-team all-Southwest Yosemite League honors in 2009.
The last time Nard played in a game was less than two years later — Nov. 25, 2011 — when Frontier lost in the second round of the CIF Central Section Division II playoffs.
Nard was 17 years old at the time and part of an exciting Cal Poly recruiting class that also included future standouts Nick Enriquez and Kori Garcia.
Nard, now 21, has spent the past three years watching patiently from the sideline, eager for his chance to prove the payoff was worth the wait.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Nard said. “ … I’ll continue to do what I have to do because I just want to be the best. If you want to be the best, that’s just what you have to do.”