Twenty minutes into his first college football practice, Bobby Purify encountered a problem that has plagued his life: injuries.
Purify, a running back at Colorado, had a fracture in his foot. The injury forced him to sit out and watch the first six games of the 2000 season. As a result of the injury and accompanying rehabilitation, Purify learned early what is required to recover from the adversity of an injury.
“I guess I have the want and the drive not to let something keep me down,” Purify said.
The want and drive were again tested in 2003. Poised to become the Buffaloes on-field leader, Purify entered his senior season looking to build on the success of his two previous seasons in the Buffaloes powerful rushing offense.
Because workhorse running back Chris Brown elected to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft, Purify inherited the No. 1 spot at the position. Before he could fully establish himself, Purify, though, experienced what he said was the most difficult injury of his career to overcome. He said it was difficult because he thought his college career was finished.
Purify suffered a high ankle sprain at home in a loss to Washington State, the third game of the season.
As he rehabilitated, the injury didn’t improve quickly. At the same time, a calcium deposit developed on his foot, further delaying the recovery and requiring more surgery. He did not play again.
Fortunately for him, because of the need for surgery, the NCAA granted Purify a fifth year of eligibility.
“I was thankful, really, that I would have that opportunity to come back and do the thing that I love for another year,” Purify said. “It was my last season.”
Purify, one of the Buffaloes’ captains, has finally achieved the role of on-field leader and his performances so far this season prove it. He leads the team, which is 3-0, with 354 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
He began the season with a 26-carry, 189-yard game to propel his team to a 27-24 victory against rival Colorado State on Sept. 4.
Two weeks later against North Texas, Purify ran for 119 yards and three touchdowns.
“I pretty much just lead by example, really,” Purify said. “I don’t say too much. I just go out and practice and lead by work ethic, and I guess they respond to it.
“I’m not doing anything outside of myself. Everything I do I’m comfortable with.”
Purify also dedicated his offseason to getting stronger without losing any of his speed. After playing his first four seasons at 190 pounds, Purify is listed at 215.
Colorado coach Gary Barnett said he knows his team’s personality changes without Purify in the lineup.
“What I should say is we’re a different team when Bobby is not in there,” Barnett said. “One, he’s a captain. So players have a lot of confidence in his leadership and also in his ability. He’s been around. He’s in his fifth year. He knows how to play in this league. He knows how to play in big games. He knows how to play against tough defenses.
“You don’t have to worry about Bobby not mentally being there. He’s an example to the younger guys. You’ve got a veteran, almost a pro in there doing his job. He’s great in protection. He’s just a complete football player. He is what you hope you can get all your players to be at some point in their career.”
Purify’s impact goes beyond leadership and can be measured in the most fundamental category: wins. In Purify’s freshman year, the Buffaloes, who were trying to transfer to a primarily rushing offense instead a finesse passing offense, stumbled out of the gate, losing 5-of-6. After Purify returned and had one start, the Buffaloes went 2-3.
The next two seasons, in which Purify stayed relatively injury-free, the Buffaloes rolled through the Big 12 North Division. They recorded a 14-2 record, twice appearing in the Big 12 Championship and winning in 2001.
In those seasons, Purify’s slashing, quick style served as a devastating change of pace to the straight-ahead, bruising running of Brown.
Even during the success, Purify didn’t completely play without injury.
In 2002, near the end of the Buffaloes’ second straight win against Nebraska, Purify suffered a severe high ankle sprain. The injury limited him in the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma and kept him out of the Buffaloes’ Alamo Bowl appearance.
In addition to the surgery to remove the calcium deposit in his foot this offseason, Purify has also had surgery on an ankle and shoulder.
“From the minute he got here, he’s had to develop that mentality, that toughness,” Barnett said. “He’s a guy that has sort of persevered and developed a mental toughness that you hope everybody develops along the way in their career.”