CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Phillip Dorsett thought he was playing his best football for the University of Miami when he ran a reverse with 1:37 remaining in the first quarter against North Carolina on Oct. 17.
But cornerback Jabari Price went low on a tackle that left the junior wide receiver reaching for his left leg after the hit and awkward landing.
“Of course the worst was going through my head,” Dorsett said. “I thought I tore my ACL. I didn’t, and I’m just thankful for that.”
Dorsett suffered a partial tear of his medial collateral ligament with a recovery time of a four-to-six weeks. He rehabilitated three-to-four times daily, working on both range of motion and movement.
Dorsett had seen firsthand what injuries did to fellow receivers Malcolm Lewis and Rashawn Scott during the past year. Neither has been able to crack the wideout rotation during a rigorous recovery process. Lewis and Scott have combined for 10 catches and 109 yards this season.
Before the injury, Dorsett caught 13 passes for 272 yards and two touchdowns with a team-best 20.9 average. His season-long 68-yard reception came against the Tar Heels.
As a sophomore, Dorsett paced the team with 842 yards on 58 catches and four scores. That was after a freshman season in which he played in all 12 games, recording 14 catches for 147 yards. Dorsett’s speed also makes him a valuable special teams asset.
“Very crucial for me just getting back to game mode, back to how it was before the North Carolina game,” Dorsett said. “I felt at the North Carolina game I was at my pinnacle, at my peak. I was starting to be a great receiver. I’m getting back to where I was there and getting back to the little things.”
With Dorsett out, freshman Stacy Coley took over duties as the offense’s second receiving target behind senior Allen Hurns.
Coley is the only player in FBS with a touchdown via a reception, rush, kickoff and punt return. He’s second on the team with 30 catches and 559 yards (18.6) and has a team-best seven touchdown receptions.
“I took it upon myself, and actually, (Phillip) talked to me a lot,” Coley said. “My wide receiving corps is just full of communication. When one (goes) down we just lift each other up, and it’s the next man mentality.”
While Coley earned a spot in the program’s record books for rookie performances, Dorsett gradually saw improvement in his health. He cites the week leading up to the Nov. 23 home finale against Virginia as the biggest step forward. That’s when Dorsett began running and making cuts. He even put on his pads and uniform to take part in pregame drills.
A week later, Dorsett played in Pittsburgh. Though he did not make a reception, it signified another step in his recovery.
Offensive coordinator James Coley said the last obstacle standing in Dorsett’s way isn’t physical but mental.
“I saw him two weeks of practice to know that he’s still fast,” James Coley said. “It’s really his level of comfort with that injury psychologically when he’s running. That’s really where I’ve seen him grow.
“The first couple of days and week he was running on it like it was tender. It wasn’t, but in his mind you protect it. But as he kept on running routes it got better and better and better.”
This past weekend during open bowl practices, Dorsett took the field at Cobb Stadium with his teammates. He expects to benefit from the additional preparation time. After all, had things turned out differently for the Hurricanes, his season would’ve already ended.
Instead, Dorsett expects to be 100 percent when Miami (9-3) plays No. 18 Louisville (11-1) in the Dec. 28 Russell Athletic Bowl, the Hurricanes’ first bowl game in three years.
“Once I get out here and start playing I’m not really worried about anything else,” Dorsett said. “I’m a football player. I don’t really care. We sacrifice our body out here every day. If it happens it happens. God had a great plan for me this year, and he’s going to make me do better.”