You can't blame Idaho tight end Luke Smith-Anderson for feeling upbeat entering his junior season.
He's on the verge of playing two straight seasons for the first time in his five-year Idaho career, and that's a major feat.
Anderson started two games as a true freshmen for the Idaho Vandals back in 2001, and caught four passes for 97 yards. He hoped it was the start of something big.
It wasn't. The next two years were lost because of injuries to both knees. In 2002, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in practice two days before the opener against Boise State. In 2003, he caught one pass for 10 yards in the season-opener against Washington before tearing the ACL in his left knee in the third quarter.
"I've been through a lot," Smith-Anderson said at the recent WAC Media Day in Reno. "I had four surgeries in the last two years after tearing both ACLs.
"I can't say it (quitting after the second surgery) didn't cross my mind. It was a lot of hard work. I don't think I ever thought seriously about quitting. I didn't want to go out like that."
It meant another year of re-habbing, and Anderson did just that. He went on to have his best season at IU, catching 16 passes for 207 yards and four scores, career bests in all categories. His best games were a 3-catch, 53-yard effort at Middle Tennessee and 60 yards receiving against Arkansas State.
And, the 270-pound Smith-Anderson, who runs a 4.78 40, is hoping the best is yet to come.
"He can run, catch and block well," IU coach Nick Holt said. "He's had a lot of tough luck, but he's worked through it. I think he can be one of the better tight ends in the conference."
Smith-Anderson said he's gained 45 pounds since he came to Idaho, and he's pleased with the results.
"It helped last year (playing at around 265)," he said. "It made a huge difference and I did get faster."
Smith-Anderson still has one more year left, but it's unsure whether he will stay at IU or wait and see if he's drafted by the NFL. He certainly has the physical requirements the NFL demands.
"Absolutely, that's my goal," he said. "One of my friends (Brian Howard) played for the Rams for a couple of seasons. Jake Scott was drafted by the Colts. I've talked to them about it.
"All the tight ends are in the 260-270 range and all run a 4.8. I'm right with those guys. Tight end is a special position. It's the best position on the field. You get to block and you get to catch the ball and make big plays. You have to know what's going on across the entire line. You have to block like an offensive lineman and run like a wide receiver."
And, the Vandals are hoping Smith-Anderson does exactly that this year.
The Smith-Anderson File
Hometown: Cour d'Alene, Idaho
Year in school: Junior
Position: Tight end