Injuries fail to derail confidence of 'Canes freshmen Berrios, Yearby

The training room isn't the ideal place to begin a new chapter in one's life, but two freshmen -- wide receiver Braxton Berrios and running back Joe Yearby -- did just that this spring. While teammates put on helmets and pads for practice, the pair got up at 5 a.m. every day for 1.5 hours of treatment. Both watched from the sidelines as the other early enrollees and student-athletes practiced.

Miami wide receiver Braxton Berrios is listed as an option for kick and punt returns in the Hurricanes season opener.

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The training room isn't the ideal place to begin a new chapter in one's life, but two freshmen -- wide receiver Braxton Berrios and running back Joe Yearby -- did just that this spring.

While teammates put on helmets and pads for practice, the pair got up at 5 a.m. every day for 1.5 hours of treatment. Both watched from the sidelines as the other early enrollees and student-athletes practiced.

"I didn't see my dorm room until 8 (p.m) as far as getting back to my room every day," Berrios said. "Obviously it wasn't the best thing coming in full load of classes, having a crutch everywhere and trying to learn football. It was a lot to deal with, but I ended up getting a 4.0 that semester, learned the offense and took care of what I had to in the training room."

In other words, not quite how he envisioned the start to his time as a Hurricane.

Berrios, at 5-foot-9, 183 pounds, participated in the Under Armour Game on Jan. 2 and worked out per usual before moving into his dorm, oblivious to the fact he had a torn ACL. The procedure took place 13 days after scoring a touchdown against the nation's top recruits.

Yearby, meanwhile, underwent fibula surgery Dec. 4, 2013. The 5-foot-9, 192-pounder missed out on the end of Miami Central High School's state championship run.

"I was in the same thing with him," Yearby said. "When Braxton showed up, I would be right next to him doing rehab. It was a good way to start talking with each other and telling each other we would be all right. We got a good bond like that."

Once the initial shock of sitting out wore off, it was time to begin the arduous recovery process. More than anything, it requires mental toughness.

Some of their new teammates, whose 2013 seasons ended with injuries, were getting treatment beside them and could offer words of encouragement. Senior wide receiver Phillip Dorsett tried returning for last December's Russell Athletic Bowl before he was ready. Junior defensive back Deon Bush was never fully healthy all year. Sophomore Corn Elder sustained a meniscus tear late in the season.

"My senior year when I got hurt I didn't really think I would play football again," Yearby said. "Everybody was talking to me, keeping my head up. Everything was like that. I just kept moving forward, staying positive. It came out right."

When redshirt senior quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL during the spring, he turned to Berrios who was a few months ahead in the process.

Between knowing his physical limitations and staying focused with his rehabilitation, Berrios could offer words of advice and encouragement through experience.

"Just have to get mentally sound," Berrios said. "I think that's the No. 1 thing. You're always going to want to compare yourself to your old self."

All-ACC running back Duke Johnson admitted he didn't like bringing up the topic of his injury because it can become ingrained in one's psyche. Doing so seems to have worked.

"He's a new dude," All-ACC linebacker Denzel Perryman said. "You couldn't even tell he came off an injury. He went away and came back a whole lot better. He's like a whole new person. I want to ask him how he did it. What's his mindset?"

Throughout the 15-hour day, players are there for each other as support. The results, they were told, would come with both patience and humility.

Despite their inability to participate on the Greentree Practice Fields, there were positives sitting out the spring as early enrollees. For one, they had more time to study the playbook and slow the game down.

"I watched a lot of film and took mental reps," Yearby said. "Anything the starters were doing, I was in the back visualizing myself doing it."

Added Johnson: "He came in ready to learn, ready to listen. He was ready. He came in with the mindset that the stuff in high school doesn't matter."

Away from the playing field, the pair grew accustomed to college life -- from living in Pearson Residential College to studying for midterms and finals.

Neither Berrios nor Yearby has missed much of a beat by attacking the recovery with determination and discipline. They set plans and met goals to avoid any setbacks.

"Like he never had an ACL (surgery)," offensive coordinator James Coley said of Berrios. "He worked really hard to get back. He's at where he was before he had the ACL. He's really been a strong point to this offense, especially on third downs. He's come through. I'm very impressed with him."

With the season opener six days away, both guys are ready to contribute and close to full health. Their expectations haven't been stifled.

Berrios is listed as an option for kick and punt returns. He will likely see snaps on third-down situations. Yearby was second in the backfield on the first depth chart released, behind Johnson.

"It's great, it feels normal," Berrios said. "I don't wear a brace. I don't wear anything because a -- I think it's playing with your mind a little bit and it also puts a big target on your back. It feels great. Do whatever I can. We've got great players here. Do whatever they ask me to do."

Added Yearby: "Win a national championship and contribute to the team any way I can."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.