Rule of thumb: You’re close to 100 percent when the dog can’t keep up with you.
Randy Gregory knows. He knows he’s almost back as his family’s cairn terrier (think Toto in “The Wizard of Oz”) struggles to catch him as he runs and cuts through his parents’ house.
Granted, the opposition has paws instead of cleats. But hey, “He’s a terrier. He’s pretty quick,” Gregory says.
He laughs about that, and why wouldn’t he?
Good days, these.
The junior college defensive end is set to sign with Nebraska on Wednesday, arguably one of the more important signatures in this Husker recruiting class.
He’s eager. He knows Nebraska's defensive line could use a lift. He thinks he can provide it.
To think he almost played basketball instead.
We'll get to that in a moment.
First, go back to a Tuesday practice in the heat in Yuma, Ariz., a stretched-out town that hugs the Mexico border. Gregory briefly called it home.
“There’s not a lot of shopping malls,” Gregory says. “I think there’s one mall way down the road.”
It was the second week of Gregory’s second season at Arizona Western Community College when adversity struck.
The first season had been beyond what anyone could have expected. Very few freshmen played significant snaps on the team with 18 recruits who went on to sign with FBS schools. But Gregory did.
He piled up 82 tackles, 21 for loss, and nine sacks. When the season was over, Gregory’s coach sat him down to let him know what was coming.
“You’re going to be the most highly recruited player coming out of here next year,” the coach told him.
Sure enough, when the program’s spring showcase arrived, coaches from about 30 FBS programs showed up. All of them wanted Gregory to know they were there.
So his second season in Yuma was basically going to be the cherry atop the sundae before Gregory advanced to bigger stadiums on fall Saturdays down the road.
Coaches called for a physical practice the Monday of that second week. Full contact. Go like it’s a game.
The day passed without incident.
Tuesday was different. Coaches called for full contact again. On the second play of the day, Gregory got caught just outside the pile. Someone rolled up on his ankle. He planted awkwardly.
Just a sprain, he thought. Then he got back to the locker room.
“There were bones where they’re not supposed to be."
Season over. A broken fibula. Bad news anytime. Really bad news now.
University of Texas coaches had just told him they were going to look at the film from his first couple games and see what he could do. Gregory, a Purdue recruit coming out of high school, might be one of those recruits who could name his school.
Now he wondered if everything was gone.
“I called my dad,” Gregory says. “He said, ‘Just get better. Find out what you need to do. It’s all going to work out in the end. Just believe.'”
He had already shown a strong level of belief when he got on the plane for Arizona the first time.
He admittedly had “slacked off” his senior year of high school, missing the grades he needed to play at Purdue, just 70 miles from his high school in Fishers, Ind.
But he was pretty good at basketball and had offers to play right away at Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois and St. Peter’s in New Jersey.
The Boilermaker coaches wanted him to play football, of course. By going to a junior college, he could clear the academic hurdles to play there and meet up with them in a couple years.
A tough decision.
Just as Gregory started to come close to pulling the lever on playing basketball, he got a call from the coaches at Arizona Western.
They made a good sales pitch. Three days later he was on a plane.
A good decision.
“I definitely wouldn’t have changed it if I had to go back,” he says.
Even with the injury last fall, his game footage from 2011 was enough to captivate coaches and keep him among the most highest rated juco recruits in the country.
ESPN’s recruiting service ranks him No. 2 among all junior college players in this class, 247Sports has him No. 4, Rivals has him 11th. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Gregory is a consensus four-star recruit by all major recruiting websites.
He remained committed to Purdue even as the interest picked up.
Nebraska? The Huskers didn’t really come onto his radar until late September or early October.
At about the same time, Purdue’s season started falling apart in such a way that would ultimately get coach Danny Hope fired.
Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said the right things and convinced Gregory to come to Lincoln for the Michigan game.
Cornfields danced in his head.
“You hear Cornhuskers, so you just assume there’s a lot of corn out there,” Gregory says.
The place was different than he expected. His first thought when he saw Memorial Stadium: This is big. Then someone told him it'd be even bigger by the time he got here.
And he liked that Bo Pelini and his staff didn’t offer any guarantees.
“I don’t want anybody to feed me what I want to hear. I want somebody to tell me this is what we need to get better,” Gregory says. “This is what we need from you. This is what we expect from you.”
He’s also used to passionate head coaches.
“I think being in Arizona kind of prepared me for him (Pelini) because a lot of times people see him running up and down the sideline yelling and screaming, and my coaches are just like that in Arizona, so I wasn’t scared of that,” Gregory says. “He seems like the kind of coach that is going to keep me under control, keep me focused and push me to the level I need to be at.”
Even that injury seems like a “blessing in disguise” to him now.
It earned him a medical redshirt. Now he’ll have three years to play in Lincoln.
For the time being, he's waiting at his parents' new home in Michigan, having taken some online courses as he gets ready to come to Lincoln this summer.
And he thinks he has the injury about licked.
Not quite 100 percent, but "90 to 95 percent healed," he says.
He's running. Lifting. The dog is probably worn out by now.
Time for new competition.