Giving his all

What Drake Dunsmore has done this season for Northwestern out of the superback position, after missing all of last year with a torn ACL, is no surprise to himself.

Dunsmore never allowed doubt over his future ability to creep into his mind. Knowing his own work ethic, one instilled by his once-NFL-playing father, Dunsmore was sure he could again be a key piece in Northwestern's offense, and through four games, he has. He's caught 17 passes, second-best among Wildcats receivers, and has 190 yards and a touchdown.

The one obstacle Dunsmore did need to overcome to get to this point was training camp.

The actual workouts didn't worry him. He knew his knee was ready. His concern rested more on the general idea of training camp. Training camp was where he tore his right ACL on an ordinary play the year before, and he was now back at training camp, where at any time he worried something similar could happen again.

"As much you fight it, you have it in the back of your head," Dunsmore said. "It was tough. It was tough. Every day I had to tell myself to take it one play at a time, one day at a time. If I started thinking about it, I would change it to something else."

Dunsmore relied on Northwestern's coaching staff and his teammates often during these times, but mostly he went to his father, Pat. Aside from being his son's role model, Pat Dunsmore had also starred at Drake and then spent two seasons in the NFL with the Chicago Bears as a tight end.

"My dad had some injuries when he played," Dunsmore said. "I talked to him for hours about it. He told me what to focus on. We'd talk, and he'd just ask me how I'm doing. I told him what was on my mind and what was bothering me. He'd tell me, 'You have a long career ahead of you' and how you have it take it day by day.

"He's been great. He's my hero. He's my mentor. He's never really been one to coach me up, only if I ask for it."

Dunsmore never felt he was pushed into football or had to carry heavy expectations because of his father, but he did realize it was expected of him to work hard at whatever he chose to do.

"That's definitely something I got from my father," Dunsmore said. "The one thing he'd get on me for was if I wasn't working hard, if I wasn't giving 100 percent, whether it was school or on the field or playing basketball."

It was with that 100 percent approach that Dunsmore went at his rehabilitation.

"You see guys who get injured and they don't quit push themselves as much as they could," he said.

Superbacks coach Bob Heffner can attest that no one at Northwestern ever questioned whether Dunsmore was giving enough to his rehab.

"He works hard on all things," Heffner said. "I haven't had to coach him with that. He had that right away. He's a coach's dream. Being as good as he can be, that's very important to him."

Following more than a year of countless physical and mental challenges that accompanied his injury, Dunsmore finally retook the field for Northwestern on Sept. 5. Six plays into Northwestern's first drive against Towson, Dunmore caught an 8-yard pass for a first down. He's since caught 16 more balls and likely is to catch many more, but it was that first one he has especially enjoyed.

"It was kind of surreal," he said. " After the game, I was talking to my dad, and I told him I had to pinch myself because I was on the field. All that work, all those surgeries, I was finally back. After getting that first catch under my belt, it was like I never left."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.