Polite midwesterner that he is, Kyle Bramble was torn. He wanted to answer the question but he wasn’t sure it would be in his best interest to be totally forthcoming should someone from a Dartmouth opponent learn his “secret.”
Which knee was it that he blew out in last year’s Nov. 23 finale against Princeton?
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior tailback hesitated and thought about the question for a second before being let off the hook.
“You don’t want other teams to know which knee it was, right?” he was asked.
“That’s right,” he said.
There are two reasons why Bramble might have been fine answering the question.
First, the nature of the procedure he had done – an opposite knee patella graft – left him with a scar on each knee. It’s not as if tacklers actually have time to sit back and decide to go for the knee with the scar on it, but even if they did it wouldn’t do them any good since he has a matched set of tracks.
The other reason why Bramble probably would have been OK identifying the knee that was injured and repaired? Less than nine months removed from surgery, it’s just about as good as knew.
“I’ve never felt better,” he said after taking first-team reps during a recent practice on breezy Memorial Field. “It’s just about 100 percent. I don’t have any pain anymore except maybe when I’m doing heavy squats or something in the weight room. But nothing on the field.”
Bramble led the state of Indiana both in rushing yards (2,875) and rushing touchdowns (47) while earning a spot on the 5A all-state first team in his senior year of high school. As the primary backup to Dom Pierre last year, he ran for 337 yards on 55 carries, a healthy 6.1 yards per attempt.
He came on strong as the season wore on, averaging 73.3 yards over the final three games.
He also showed a knack for the big play, reeling off a 37-yard run against Cornell, a 70-yarder the next week at Brown and a 41-yard gain on his only carry against Princeton.
It was on the long-gainer in the win over the Tigers that he was injured. “There wasn’t much contact,” he said. “Maybe somebody pulled on me from behind a little bit. It was just the way I planted. (The knee) just twisted.”
Back home in Floyds Knobs, after Thanksgiving, Bramble checked in with a few friends who had made surprisingly quick recoveries from ACL surgery. “They were back in like five months, which sounded good to me,” he said.
After a little more research Bramble had his surgery done at the well-regarded Shelbourne Knee Center.
Dr. K. Donald Shelbourne, the team physician for the Indianapolis Colts from 1984-98, performs upwards of 250 ACL reconstructions each year. Rather than an arthroscopic procedure, he is the rare surgeon who still uses an open incision in ACL repair.
The Shelbourne website explains the Indiana facility’s philosophy this way:“The Shelbourne Knee Center uses a section of patellar tendon to reconstruct the torn or missing ACL. This can be taken from either knee. After years of experience we have found that taking the graft from the opposite (contralateral) knee allows for a faster, more predictable recovery.
“We choose the patellar tendon over other grafts because it is a strong graft with a low failure rate.”
Bramble’s decision to go with the Shelbourne procedure proved to be wise. After working with the Dartmouth training and medical staff for two and sometimes three hours a day during the winter after his surgery, he soon found himself feeling better and getting antsy. “They had me doing a stair-stepper and I wanted to get out and run,” he said with a smile.
He was running – and running surprisingly well – by the time spring rolled around, less than four months or so after his surgery.
“I was cleared about two weeks before the spring term started,” he said. “I couldn’t do full contact or anything but I started doing sprinting and all of that during spring ball. By the start of the summer I was training even harder.”
As impressed as he’s been with how Bramble has looked on the field, Coach Buddy Teevens is almost as impressed with how he’s handling himself when the ball is not in his hands.
“He’s a good, team guy and a good leader for us,” the coach said. “It’s more action than word, but now he is saying more stuff. He is holding guys to a high standard.
“He loves to play and it’s important to him. Like (corner Chai Reece) and (offensive lineman) Scott Whitmore, he wanted to get back out there and worked hard. Like all of them, he’s striving to be perfect. Good isn’t good enough.”
It certainly isn’t for Bramble, who bristled at Dartmouth being picked third in the Ivy League preseason media poll.
“Third is not good enough for us,” he said Thursday, echoing his coach. “The goal is to be number one this year. I’m very excited because we are going to be a great team. We put in a lot of new stuff last year and that carried over to this year.
“We added more in the spring and are adding more now. I don’t think teams will be able to stop us because we have so many plays we can run. Everybody is comfortable running them because we’ve been doing it for so long now. And obviously our defense is going to be great, so we are looking for the top spot this year.”
As is Bramble, who served as an understudy to Pierre the past two years while Pierre was climbing to second on the all-time Dartmouth rushing chart.
“It’s what you expect,” he said of his apprenticeship. “It’s the same as in high school. As a freshman and sophomore you don’t get that much playing time but I got enough reps last year that I know the offense well enough. This year is my chance to show out.”
At Floyd Floyd Central, Bramble ran what he termed a lot of “power stuff,” which has helped him develop into an effective runner on inside zone read plays.
“I learned more the past couple of years,” he said. “Dom was a great guy to learn from. He taught me how to read and see stuff different.”
Bramble will join with dynamic classmate Brian Grove – back in action after missing the spring with his own surgery – to help Dartmouth attack defenses in multiple ways.
“I think we are going to be running some dual threat stuff with us,” Bramble said. “We’re going to try to be in the game, both of us as much as possible. He’s got the speed and I’ve got the inside stuff, so it’s a good combination.”
It doesn’t hurt that players who accounted for 40 of the 50 starts on the offensive line return in front of Bramble, Grove and a what looks like a pool of talented running backs.
“The O-line is great,” said Bramble. “Most of them are back. Scooter (Scotty Whitmore) and AJ (Dillione) are out right now but they will be good as usual. We’ve got (Jacob) Flores, (Niko) Mamula, Sleepy Bear (Ben Spiritos) and other guys back, so we’re excited.”
As is everyone who has seen Bramble on the field and looking like the Princeton game never happened.
Dartmouth kicks off the season Sept. 20 at home against Central Connecticut.