PROVO — In two quarters at Virginia last September, Bret Engemann etched his name in BYU football lore and seemingly established himself as the Cougars' next great quarterback.
BYU trailed 21-0 at halftime against the Cavaliers, then Engemann threw for 318 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to lead the Cougars to a 38-35 overtime win.
But that comeback was nothing compared with the one he's attempting now.
One month after that victory against Virginia, he found himself lying on an operating table to undergo major, season-ending shoulder surgery on his throwing arm.
This spring, his rehabilitation continues. The 6-foot-4 junior is sitting out of spring drills, spending part of his time at practices tossing a football — which is still painful for him — and running and riding a stationary bike.
Memories of that magical performance on a sultry fall afternoon in Charlottesville keep him motivated. "I don't feel that game was an accident," Engemann said.
He expects to be back to 100 percent by next fall to compete for the starting job. At the same time, he feels as though he's starting over. After all, coach Gary Crowton and offensive coordinator Mike Borich are new to the program and they are introducing a new offense this spring. All Engemann can do is watch and wait. "I'm taking the attitude that I need to prove myself all over again," he said.
By the time Engemann reports to fall camp in August, he will be less experienced in this offensive system than seniors Brandon Doman, Charlie Peterson and freshman Todd Mortensen, who have been taking the snaps during spring drills.
"I'm concerned about that. You can't learn the offense until you run it. It comes with repetition," Engemann said.
"Bret has been recovering nicely and working hard to get back," Crowton said. "Not being able to work out during the spring will put him a little behind everyone else in the fall, but with his skills and ability, I'm sure it won't be long before he's right back in the mix."
Engemann's biggest problem at BYU has been staying healthy. Even before wrecking his shoulder at Syracuse, he suffered from knee and ankle injuries last season that cut down on his playing time and disrupted his momentum.
"It's been very tough. I felt like I was just starting to come into my own last year," he said. "Every time I felt I was getting the offense down, I'd get hurt. Maybe I need to change my number (13). Or pray harder."
Since his shoulder surgery, Engemann has lost 20 pounds (he weighs 218 pounds now). This summer, he wants to add five pounds of muscle to his frame. His inability to elude an opposing team's rush "got me in hairy situations last year. I need to be leaner and stronger. I need to be quicker and improve my footwork."
Of course, his right shoulder is the main concern. The next two months "are critical" to his comeback, said BYU trainer George Curtis. "He's got to stay diligent with his rehab."
Studies say that of the professional baseball players who have undergone the surgery performed on Engemann, only 40 percent have been able to return to the game, according to Curtis. "There aren't any statistics on the success rate for football players, but it should be higher than that," Curtis said. "We really don't know. It's difficult. He's had a lot of structural change in his shoulder. But we're optimistic he'll be ready to go in the fall."
Engemann, 23, has no plans to redshirt, even though he has a redshirt year available. "I'm not going to sit out this fall," he said. "I've got two years left." He smiled. "I don't want to graduate when I'm 30."
As far as Engemann is concerned, his days of etching his name in BYU football lore aren't over yet. "I've learned a lot during everything I've been through," he said. "I will be a better quarterback for this."