IOWA CITY — Brandon Snyder may return to the field sooner rather than later for the Iowa football team.
It was six months ago this week the Hawkeyes’ starting free safety suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament during practice, but it is probable Snyder will return to action in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.
“I think it’s fair to say he may be out there,’’ coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “How much, I don’t know yet.’’
Snyder initially was expected to miss nearly all of the regular season given the timing of his injury and the normal rehabilitation length of seven-to-eight months for athletes who undergo surgery to repair ACL tears.
The junior insisted at Iowa’s media day in early August that he would return to action this season and Ferentz said Snyder was cleared last week to return to practice.
“We’re trying to move him forward,’’ Ferentz said. “We’ll see what the week brings here. He’s doing a good job in practice.’’
Snyder would bring additional experience to a secondary that has held its own with three first-year starters during his absence.
In addition to working on his own rehabilitation, Snyder has been working with younger defensive backs on the roster and they welcome his return to competition.
“He’s given us great leadership off the field and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing on the field once he’s back out there with us,’’ cornerback Josh Jackson said. “Hopefully, he’ll get the chance to play some this week. That would be great.’’
Jackson said Snyder’s commitment to returning to action has been inspirational.
“To see him work so hard to get back on the field, it says something about him and it makes you appreciate being healthy and able to go out and compete,’’ Jackson said. “This means a lot to him and us.’’
Snyder is typical of a number of players on the Iowa roster.
He arrived in the Hawkeye program as a walk-on, a five-sport athlete at West Lyon High School in northwest Iowa who worked his way up the depth chart, first excelling on special teams before working his way into a role at free safety.
Snyder started as a sophomore in all 13 games Iowa played last season.
He finished third on the team with 85 tackles, sharing the team lead with three interceptions and led the Hawkeyes with three forced fumbles. Snyder also broke up four passes and recovered two fumbles.
Ferentz credits Snyder’s speedy return to teamwork.
He said the work of team doctors, trainers and the Iowa strength staff combined with Snyder’s determination to give him a chance to compete this fall.
Ultimately, medical personnel determine when a player is ready to return to action.
“The hospital folks, the doctors, that’s their level of expertise,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s what they do and they work with our strength staff. Every player goes through a certain protocol to get back from any injury. They’ve got a very specified plan that everybody follows.’’
Ferentz said he was told about a month ago that Snyder was progressing quickly.
“Everybody is different. You just never know when it is going to happen, so obviously Brandon must be a quick healer,’’ Ferentz said. “He works really hard and has worked hard in the rehab part of it. He’s cleared the hurdles a little faster than the average person, so at least he’s going to affect those numbers when people are doing their studies.’’
Snyder was in uniform for last week’s 17-10 loss at Michigan State. He went through warm-ups with the team and unsuccessfully tried to talk coaches into letting him take the field.
“He’s a tough dude,’’ linebacker Josey Jewell said. “He came back pretty quickly from something like that. The guys on the back end have done a good job but he’s an older guy, a vocal leader and it will be good to get him back out there.’’
INTERNAL FOCUS: Illinois is Iowa’s opponent this week, but the Hawkeyes’ energies are focused internally as they work to move beyond an 0-2 Big Ten start.
Ferentz said work on ball security, handling blitzes and simply developing “the confidence and grit it takes to be successful home or away’’ top Iowa’s list of priorities on the practice field.
“Last week was our first away game in the Big Ten, and I don’t think we handled the whole thing very well,’’ Ferentz said. “That’s part of the equation with some newer players. … We’re going to have to get over that and learn how to play a little bit better.’’
RUGAMBA SIDELINED: Michael Ojemudia is expected to make his second straight start at right cornerback as Manny Rugamba continues to deal with an injury.
Ferentz said Rugamba, who suffered an undisclosed injury during the first half of the Penn State game, has not practiced this week.
FULL HOUSE: Saturday’s game will be the largest crowd of the season at Kinnick Stadium. Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for the Hawkeyes’ homecoming game.