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Former Bison Johnson says knee injury is just a brief interruption

North Dakota State's Carson Wentz celebrates his first touchdown run with linemen Zack Johnson (66) and Austin Kuhnert Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, during the NCAA FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO—This winter is go time for almost every former college football player who is trying to make an impression with NFL teams. Zack Johnson thought he may have hit the stop sign, only to find out it was more of a yield warning.

The North Dakota State graduate tore a ligament in his knee two weeks ago during practice in the East-West Shrine Game, an injury he initially thought included the dreaded anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL. It turns out it was the medial collateral ligament, or MCL.

The difference in recovery time could be immense, especially considering every day counts at this time of the year.

"I thought it was going to be something worse than what it was," Johnson said. "It felt a lot worse than what it was, so it was nice to get the word that it was nothing more than an MCL. It was a big weight off my shoulders that it wasn't the ACL."

Johnson still has high hopes of competing in NDSU's annual Pro Day in March, where professional scouts come to the Fargodome and measure pro potential. It's where quarterback Carson Wentz moved up the draft board last year with his throwing performance.

"I should be back full go," Johnson said.

At the suggestion of his agent, Brian Adkins from 7 Sports Group out of San Diego, the 6-foot-4, 330-pound offensive guard is in Vancouver, Wash., this week at a training center called New Athlete.

"I didn't know where I wanted to train and asked him to send me to a place that gets results," Johnson said.

Adkins is also the agent for former NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen, who played last year for the Ottawa Redblacks in the Canadian Football League. Johnson's first day of training and rehabilitation was Monday, Jan. 30. It will mostly consist of upper body work as he slowly brings range of motion in the knee back into the mix, he said.

It's the second straight year a promising Bison offensive line prospect was hurt in practice prior to a post-season all-star game. Last year, Joe Haeg injured his shoulder the week of the Senior Bowl and wasn't able to play in the game.

Haeg still worked himself into a fifth-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts.

"It's just another fork in the road," Johnson said. "I talked to (Haeg) before I got down there and asked him for advice on what to expect."

The difference between the two is Johnson was able to practice for three full days, and got some good reviews to boot. He was hurt while pass blocking when another player got tripped up and hit the outside of his knee.

"I thought I went out and showed I can play with the big boys," Johnson said. "I just feel like this is a brief interruption. Yeah, it stinks that it happened but it just makes you work harder to where you want to be."

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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