TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For Eddie Lacy, the pain is mental. Dwell on it and the ache in his foot becomes too much to bear. Ignore it and it seems like he never had to go under the knife in the first place.
"It's mind over matter," he said.
Running with a football tucked high and tight has never been a simple task for Alabama's top tailback. He has been nicked and dinged up as much as a picker on a golf range.
After suffering a turf toe injury last season and other minor setbacks since then, Lacy has had to figure out the right attitude to cope with spending so much time on the trainer's table -- suck it up, make it better and move on.
"At first you're injured, and you can't perform or do the things you want to do, so you get down on yourself," he said, "but there's nothing you can do but rehab and get better. So when I learned that, everything started to move faster for me."
It has taken a while for Lacy to get up to full speed. The junior from Louisiana played through pain for most of last season, backing up Trent Richardson. When Richardson left, it was Lacy's turn in the succession of Heisman-caliber backs started by Mark Ingram.
His ascension, though, had to wait.
Offseason surgery kept Lacy out of spring practice. An ankle sprain late in fall camp further derailed his claim to the title of feature. For a while, it seemed he might never get back to 100 percent. His conditioning wasn't up to par because of the injuries -- and meanwhile, true freshman T.J. Yeldon was making a name for himself.
Despite starting the first three games, Lacy had 34 fewer yards than his backup. It looked as though injuries might rob Lacy of his turn at tailback, skipped over for the younger, healthier option in Yeldon.
Instead of getting down, Lacy waited patiently; practicing, rehabbing, then playing on Saturdays. Through the last two games, his determination has paid off. He rushed for 197 yards on 34 carries against Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss, showing off his patented spin move and seemingly unnatural quickness, considering his 6-foot, 220-pound frame.
Lacy's yards per carry have gone from 4.46 to 5.79 in the past two games, and his 19-carry game against Ole Miss two weeks ago was a career best in touches.
"I'm starting to get back into a rhythm, how I was last year," he said.
Lacy isn't fooling anyone, though. Injuries remain a challenge. He spent almost the entire second half against Ole Miss trying to stretch out his hamstring; in practice during the bye week, he wore a harness on his leg -- an odd-looking contraption that he seemed to ignore.
"If you go into it knowing you're injured or have nagging injuries, then it's going to affect your performance," Lacy said. "It's mind over matter, and that's the approach that I take."
With backup running backs Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler out for the season, there's more pressure than ever on Lacy and his battered legs. For once, though, it's Lacy who is looking to pick up the slack for injured teammates. He might never be asked to carry the ball 20-25 times a game, but he's willing to do it.
"If necessary, I can," Lacy said, "but the way the coaches have it, they'll probably have a good rotation for us.
" ... Me, T.J. and [Kenyan Drake], we've just got to pick up the load."
Yeldon and Drake have put up good numbers so far, averaging 6.6 yards per carry between them. Given the injuries to Hart and Fowler, former linebacker and backup H-back Brent Calloway has moved to running back, a position he played in high school. Even backup quarterback Blake Sims is being considered as a potential tailback, too, according to coach Nick Saban.
With so much inexperience at running back, the onus to both produce and lead has fallen on Lacy's shoulders.
He's not one to lead with words, preferring to set an example. Whether it's a brace on his leg or a wince on his face, he comes to play, and he hasn't missed a game yet.
"Every guy who comes in, they know there's a standard in that room," Lacy said. "We run the ball a lot here, so you have to have a certain attitude. I wouldn't say I'm taking on a leadership role, but at the same time I have to make sure everyone is focused and lives up to the standard."