After more than a month of recovery after suffering a high ankle sprain at Purdue on Sept. 14, sophomore defensive end Sheldon Day is set to return to the field for game action this weekend against USC, and he couldn’t be more relieved.
“It’s more my ability to contribute more than anything [that I missed],” said. Day, who added that he was relegated to providing moral support to his teammates. “I didn’t feel like I could really push off and deliver a blow to my opponent so I’m feeling good this week and feeling like I can really impact this game.
“There’s always those moments where you’re like, ‘I can’t bear this.’ I wanted to be back out on the field with my brothers. I feel like from a mature standpoint that I would’ve hurt my team more being out there.”
Day came close to returning full-time to the Irish defense for the Oklahoma and Arizona State games before the bye week, but was not quite at full health. He suffered a setback during pregame warmups for the Sept. 28 Oklahoma game and even played one snap in the Arizona State game on Oct. 5 before realizing he would be more of a detriment than an aid to the team.
“I feel like I was physically and mentally prepared to play the [Oklahoma] game,” he said. “Just a minor tweak to where I didn’t feel comfortable or feel like I could give my team my best effort.
“[Against Arizona State], I definitely [thought I would play more], but I don’t want to keep setting myself backwards. I didn’t feel 100 percent.”
Day recorded seven tackles (one for loss) in three games before he “got rolled up under” against Purdue. In his absence, senior Kona Schwenke, sophomore Jarron Jones and freshman Isaac Rochell filled in, with the 6-foot-2, 290-pound end serving as a de facto player-coach.
“Yeah, I would like to say I was [doing some teaching],” he said. “Just things I saw if I was on the field I would communicate when they came back to the sidelines.”
“First of all, he doesn't stay blocked,” Kelly said. “One of the things that makes a defensive lineman a great player is he gets off blocks. Sheldon gets off blocks and is a great pass rusher.
“He's a guy that early in the season was a great pass rusher and wasn't staying blocked. He'll figure into our game plan on Saturday.”
And for Day, that’s an important step in the right direction.