Vidal Hazelton's medical miracle comeback never happened for Cincinnati, though the receiver says he was ready to go.
He tore the ACL in his left knee in the opener against Fresno State but vowed to play again before the season ended. Hazelton was medically cleared to play in the penultimate game against Connecticut but was held out because the Bearcats' compliance department thought there was still a chance he could get approved for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He found out before the finale against Pittsburgh that his college career was coming to an end, but then a snowstorm hit Nippert Stadium.
"It was snowing and our season wasn't going well, so it didn't make sense to risk it," Hazelton said.
So Hazelton's Cincinnati career lasted just a little more than one half of a game. He transferred to Cincinnati from USC after his junior year and petitioned to become immediately eligible. But the NCAA didn't buy his appeal, which was based on his desire to be closer to his sick grandfather in Georgia. Then the coach he hoped to play for, Brian Kelly, left for Notre Dame. Hazelton said the NCAA turned him down for a sixth year because he needed to show that two lost years were out of his control; though he had an ankle injury that limited him at USC, that wasn't considered major enough for a special waiver.
Hazelton really hasn't played football in two years and was hampered by the ankle problem his last year with the Trojans. The injury in the opener this season just seemed cruel.
"It was really frustrating, because in that Fresno game I was kind of getting my feet wet," he said. "I was having a pretty good game.
"I was pretty down about it that Sunday. But for some reason, I woke up Monday and just had really good spirits. I was laughing and smiling with everybody just to let them know I was OK. I didn't have any down days after that. I honestly didn't."
Hazelton is ready to move onto the next chapter of his life, which he hopes is an NFL career. He has moved to Los Angeles, where he has begun training at the Athletes Performance Institute. He's working several hours a day with other NFL hopefuls like former USC players Allen Bradford and Jurrell Casey and Hawaii's Greg Salas.
Just four months removed from his ACL surgery, Hazelton says he's still only about 85 or 90 percent. But he's confident that he can do enough to impress the pro scouts during workouts, even in what looks to be a strong class of receiver prospects this spring.
"Yeah, it hurts me not having a lot of film," he said. "But a lot of scouts came to our practice [at Cincinnati]. If somebody wants to watch me work out, I'm sure I'll be all right."
Though it didn't work out the way he envisioned, Hazelton said he has no regrets about transferring to Cincinnati. Or maybe one: that he couldn't do more to help this year as the team struggled to a 4-8 record.
"It was tough, but I think they're going to be a lot better next year," he said. "Nobody wants to feel that way again."