Three Saturdays ago, Randy Edsall walked from the sideline out to the field to find Perry Hills, his starting quarterback, being carefully lifted onto a cart, his eyes closed in pain after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Last Saturday, just before halftime, the Maryland coach had to make that awful walk again — this time to check on senior linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, the team's leading tackler, who was stretched out on the FieldTurf after being blocked during a Georgia Tech running play. Hartsfield also was found to have a torn ACL.
Hartsfield was the third Maryland player to tear an ACL in the past three games, and the fourth since training camp began.
On messages boards and sports talk radio, fans have begun wondering why so many injuries of the same type seem to be occurring in such a short period of time.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall said Tuesday that — despite appearances — the Terps have not sustained substantially more ACL injuries than in a normal year. According to Maryland's training staff, the team suffered three ACL tears last season, four in 2010, two in 2009 and five each in 2007 and 2008. That's an average of 3.8 in the five years preceding this one.
An expert said there is no "smoking gun" to uncover the causes of ACL tears.
"You can't blame the equipment or conditioning programs — that's bad luck and some of that is the nature of the beast," said Lt. Col. Steven Svoboda, an orthopedic surgeon who is the head team physician at West Point. "It's probably not too far off the mark to say that most ACL tears, even in a collision sport, are going to be a non-contact injury. It's definitely a mix."
In football, the injuries are often caused when a player plants awkwardly — perhaps because he is trying to dodge another player at high speed.
There are an estimated 150,000 ACL injuries in the nation every year among athletes, military personnel and others, according to Army researchers.
"One of the most classic ones is you hyperextend your knee — it goes too far straight — before you hit the ground," said Svoboda, who along with other researchers is trying to develop ways to predict whether some people may be predisposed to such injuries.
C.J. Brown, Maryland's presumptive starter at quarterback, tore an ACL during a non-contact drill in training camp.
Edsall said there may be a misconception about the volume of Maryland's injuries because they have victimized such prominent players — three quarterbacks and Hartsfield who has a team-best 78 tackles.
A fourth quarterback, Devin Burns, suffered a Lisfranc injury — in which bones in the midfoot are broken or ligaments are torn — in the same game as Hills on Oct. 20 and is also out for the season.
"I think that's the problem. It has happened at quarterback," said Edsall, whose Terps (4-5, 2-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) will have converted linebacker Shawn Petty at quarterback for the second straight game Saaturday at Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC).
Edsall said there is no common theme associated with Maryland's ACL injuries.
"You take a look at Perry, and he got hit from a block in the back. He had 300 pounds coming on him when his leg was planted, and that's unfortunate. [Quarterback] Caleb [Rowe], he was just running [against Boston College on Oct. 27]. He was running out of bounds and then you know, he does get hit, he tears his ACL. And then [Hartsfield] gets an ACL taken on a block and a guy gets into him," the coach said.
Edsall also said of the injuries: "I don't think it's going to affect the program negatively in any way [in the future]."
But it's clear Hartsfield will be missed for the rest of this season.
"I feel terrible for Demetrius. I love him like a brother," said defensive lineman A.J. Francis, a fellow senior and a close friend of Hartsfield's. "It's a collision sport and people get injured. We're not going to fold the rest of the season."